Part 3 out of 6
seized it and crushed it with its teeth."
(26) Reading "arce", not "arte". The word "signifer" seems to
favour the reading I have preferred; and Dean Merivale and
Hosius adopted it.
(27) For the character and career of Curio, see Merivale's
"History of the Roman Empire", chapter xvi. He was of
profligate character, but a friend and pupil of Cicero; at
first a rabid partisan of the oligarchy, he had, about the
period of his tribuneship (B.C. 50-49), become a supporter
of Caesar. How far Gaulish gold was the cause of this
conversion we cannot tell. It is in allusion to this change
that he was termed the prime mover of the civil war. His
arrival in Caesar's camp is described in Book I., line 303.
He became Caesar's chief lieutenant in place of the deserter
Labienus; and, as described in Book III., was sent to
Sardinia and Sicily, whence he expelled the senatorial
forces. His final expedition to Africa, defeat and death,
form the subject of the latter part of this book. Mommsen
describes him as a man of talent, and finds a resemblance
between him and Caesar. (Vol. iv., p. 393.)
THE ORACLE. THE MUTINY. THE STORM
Thus had the smiles of Fortune and her frowns
Brought either chief to Macedonian shores
Still equal to his foe. From cooler skies
Sank Atlas' (1) daughters down, and Haemus' slopes
Were white with winter, and the day drew nigh
Devoted to the god who leads the months,
And marking with new names the book of Rome,
When came the Fathers from their distant posts
By both the Consuls to Epirus called (2)
Ere yet the year was dead: a foreign land
Obscure received the magistrates of Rome,
And heard their high debate. No warlike camp
This; for the Consul's and the Praetor's axe
Proclaimed the Senate-house; and Magnus sat
One among many, and the state was all.
When all were silent, from his lofty seat
Thus Lentulus began, while stern and sad
The Fathers listened: "If your hearts still beat
With Latian blood, and if within your breasts
Still lives your fathers' vigour, look not now
On this strange land that holds us, nor enquire
Your distance from the captured city: yours
This proud assembly, yours the high command
In all that comes. Be this your first decree,
Whose truth all peoples and all kings confess;
Be this the Senate. Let the frozen wain
Demand your presence, or the torrid zone
Wherein the day and night with equal tread
For ever march; still follows in your steps
The central power of Imperial Rome.
When flamed the Capitol with fires of Gaul
When Veii held Camillus, there with him
Was Rome, nor ever though it changed its clime
Your order lost its rights. In Caesar's hands
Are sorrowing houses and deserted homes,
Laws silent for a space, and forums closed
In public fast. His Senate-house beholds
Those Fathers only whom from Rome it drove,
While Rome was full. Of that high order all
Not here, are exiles. (3) Ignorant of war,
Its crimes and bloodshed, through long years of peace,
Ye fled its outburst: now in session all
Are here assembled. See ye how the gods
Weigh down Italia's loss by all the world
Thrown in the other scale? Illyria's wave
Rolls deep upon our foes: in Libyan wastes
Is fallen their Curio, the weightier part (4)
Of Caesar's senate! Lift your standards, then,
Spur on your fates and prove your hopes to heaven.
Let Fortune, smiling, give you courage now
As, when ye fled, your cause. The Consuls' power
Fails with the dying year: not so does yours;
By your commandment for the common weal
Decree Pompeius leader." With applause
They heard his words, and placed their country's fates,
Nor less their own, within the chieftain's hands.
Then did they shower on people and on kings
Honours well earned -- Rhodes, Mistress of the Seas,
Was decked with gifts; Athena, old in fame,
Received her praise, and the rude tribes who dwell
On cold Taygetus; Massilia's sons
Their own Phocaea's freedom; on the chiefs
Of Thracian tribes, fit honours were bestowed.
They order Libya by their high decree
To serve King Juba's sceptre; and, alas!
On Ptolemaeus, of a faithless race
The faithless sovereign, scandal to the gods,
And shame to Fortune, placed the diadem
Of Pella. Boy! thy sword was only sharp
Against thy people. Ah if that were all!
The fatal gift gave, too, Pompeius' life;
Bereft thy sister of her sire's bequest, (5)
Half of the kingdom; Caesar of a crime.
Then all to arms.
While soldier thus and chief,
In doubtful sort, against their hidden fate
Devised their counsel, Appius (6) alone
Feared for the chances of the war, and sought
Through Phoebus' ancient oracle to break
The silence of the gods and know the end.
Between the western belt and that which bounds (7)
The furthest east, midway Parnassus rears
His double summit: to the Bromian god
And Paean consecrate, to whom conjoined
The Theban band leads up the Delphic feast
On each third year. This mountain, when the sea
Poured o'er the earth her billows, rose alone,
By one high peak scarce master of the waves,
Parting the crest of waters from the stars.
There, to avenge his mother, from her home
Chased by the angered goddess while as yet
She bore him quick within her, Paean came
(When Themis ruled the tripods and the spot) (8)
And with unpractised darts the Python slew.
But when he saw how from the yawning cave
A godlike knowledge breathed, and all the air
Was full of voices murmured from the depths,
He took the shrine and filled the deep recess;
Henceforth to prophesy.
Which of the gods
Has left heaven's light in this dark cave to hide?
What spirit that knows the secrets of the world
And things to come, here condescends to dwell,
Divine, omnipotent? bear the touch of man,
And at his bidding deigns to lift the veil?
Perchance he sings the fates, perchance his song,
Once sung, is fate. Haply some part of Jove
Sent here to rule the earth with mystic power,
Balanced upon the void immense of air,
Sounds through the caves, and in its flight returns
To that high home of thunder whence it came.
Caught in a virgin's breast, this deity
Strikes on the human spirit: then a voice
Sounds from her breast, as when the lofty peak
Of Etna boils, forced by compelling flames,
Or as Typheus on Campania's shore
Frets 'neath the pile of huge Inarime. (9)
Though free to all that ask, denied to none,
No human passion lurks within the voice
That heralds forth the god; no whispered vow,
No evil prayer prevails; none favour gain:
Of things unchangeable the song divine;
Yet loves the just. When men have left their homes
To seek another, it hath turned their steps
Aright, as with the Tyrians; (10) and raised
The hearts of nations to confront their foe,
As prove the waves of Salamis: (11) when earth
Hath been unfruitful, or polluted air
Has plagued mankind, this utterance benign
Hath raised their hopes and pointed to the end.
No gift from heaven's high gods so great as this
Our centuries have lost, since Delphi's shrine
Has silent stood, and kings forbade the gods (12)
To speak the future, fearing for their fates.
Nor does the priestess sorrow that the voice
Is heard no longer; and the silent fane
To her is happiness; for whatever breast
Contains the deity, its shattered frame
Surges with frenzy, and the soul divine
Shakes the frail breath that with the god receives,
As prize or punishment, untimely death.
These tripods Appius seeks, unmoved for years
These soundless caverned rocks, in quest to learn
Hesperia's destinies. At his command
To loose the sacred gateways and permit
The prophetess to enter to the god,
The keeper calls Phemonoe; (13) whose steps
Round the Castalian fount and in the grove
Were wandering careless; her he bids to pass
The portals. But the priestess feared to tread
The awful threshold, and with vain deceits
Sought to dissuade the chieftain from his zeal
To learn the future. "What this hope," she cried,
"Roman, that moves thy breast to know the fates?
Long has Parnassus and its silent cleft
Stifled the god; perhaps the breath divine
Has left its ancient gorge and thro' the world
Wanders in devious paths; or else the fane,
Consumed to ashes by barbarian (14) fire,
Closed up the deep recess and choked the path
Of Phoebus; or the ancient Sibyl's books
Disclosed enough of fate, and thus the gods
Decreed to close the oracle; or else
Since wicked steps are banished from the fane,
In this our impious age the god finds none
Whom he may answer." But the maiden's guile
Was known, for though she would deny the gods
Her fears approved them. On her front she binds
A twisted fillet, while a shining wreath
Of Phocian laurels crowns the locks that flow
Upon her shoulders. Hesitating yet
The priest compelled her, and she passed within.
But horror filled her of the holiest depths
From which the mystic oracle proceeds;
And resting near the doors, in breast unmoved
She dares invent the god in words confused,
Which proved no mind possessed with fire divine;
By such false chant less injuring the chief
Than faith in Phoebus and the sacred fane.
No burst of words with tremor in their tones,
No voice re-echoing through the spacious vault
Proclaimed the deity, no bristling locks
Shook off the laurel chaplet; but the grove
Unshaken, and the summits of the shrine,
Gave proof she shunned the god. The Roman knew
The tripods yet were idle, and in rage,
"Wretch," he exclaimed, "to us and to the gods,
Whose presence thou pretendest, thou shalt pay
For this thy fraud the punishment; unless
Thou enter the recess, and speak no more,
Of this world-war, this tumult of mankind,
Thine own inventions." Then by fear compelled,
At length the priestess sought the furthest depths,
And stayed beside the tripods; and there came
Into her unaccustomed breast the god,
Breathed from the living rock for centuries
Untouched; nor ever with a mightier power
Did Paean's inspiration seize the frame
Of Delphic priestess; his pervading touch
Drove out her former mind, expelled the man,
And made her wholly his. In maddened trance
She whirls throughout the cave, her locks erect
With horror, and the fillets of the god
Dashed to the ground; her steps unguided turn
To this side and to that; the tripods fall
O'erturned; within her seethes the mighty fire
Of angry Phoebus; nor with whip alone
He urged her onwards, but with curb restrained;
Nor was it given her by the god to speak
All that she knew; for into one vast mass (15)
All time was gathered, and her panting chest
Groaned 'neath the centuries. In order long
All things lay bare: the future yet unveiled
Struggled for light; each fate required a voice;
The compass of the seas, Creation's birth,
Creation's death, the number of the sands,
All these she knew. Thus on a former day
The prophetess upon the Cuman shore, (16)
Disdaining that her frenzy should be slave
To other nations, from the boundless threads
Chose out with pride of hand the fates of Rome.
E'en so Phemonoe, for a time oppressed
With fates unnumbered, laboured ere she found,
Beneath such mighty destinies concealed,
Thine, Appius, who alone had'st sought the god
In land Castalian; then from foaming lips
First rushed the madness forth, and murmurs loud
Uttered with panting breath and blent with groans;
Till through the spacious vault a voice at length
Broke from the virgin conquered by the god:
"From this great struggle thou, O Roman, free
Escap'st the threats of war: alive, in peace,
Thou shalt possess the hollow in the coast
Of vast Euboea." Thus she spake, no more.
Ye mystic tripods, guardians of the fates
And Paean, thou, from whom no day is hid
By heaven's high rulers, Master of the truth,
Why fear'st thou to reveal the deaths of kings,
Rome's murdered princes, and the latest doom
Of her great Empire tottering to its fall,
And all the bloodshed of that western land?
Were yet the stars in doubt on Magnus' fate
Not yet decreed, and did the gods yet shrink
From that, the greatest crime? Or wert thou dumb
That Fortune's sword for civil strife might wreak
Just vengeance, and a Brutus' arm once more
Strike down the tyrant?
From the temple doors
Rushed forth the prophetess in frenzy driven,
Not all her knowledge uttered; and her eyes,
Still troubled by the god who reigned within,
Or filled with wild affright, or fired with rage
Gaze on the wide expanse: still works her face
Convulsive; on her cheeks a crimson blush
With ghastly pallor blent, though not of fear.
Her weary heart throbs ever; and as seas
Boom swollen by northern winds, she finds in sighs,
All inarticulate, relief. But while
She hastes from that dread light in which she saw
The fates, to common day, lo! on her path
The darkness fell. Then by a Stygian draught
Of the forgetful river, Phoebus snatched
Back from her soul his secrets; and she fell
Yet hardly living.
Nor did Appius dread
Approaching death, but by dark oracles
Baffled, while yet the Empire of the world
Hung in the balance, sought his promised realm
In Chalcis of Euboea. Yet to escape
All ills of earth, the crash of war -- what god
Can give thee such a boon, but death alone?
Far on the solitary shore a grave
Awaits thee, where Carystos' marble crags (17)
Draw in the passage of the sea, and where
The fane of Rhamnus rises to the gods
Who hate the proud, and where the ocean strait
Boils in swift whirlpools, and Euripus draws
Deceitful in his tides, a bane to ships,
Chalcidian vessels to bleak Aulis' shore.
But Caesar carried from the conquered west
His eagles to another world of war;
When envying his victorious course the gods
Almost turned back the prosperous tide of fate.
Not on the battle-field borne down by arms
But in his tents, within the rampart lines,
The hoped-for prize of this unholy war
Seemed for a moment gone. That faithful host,
His comrades trusted in a hundred fields,
Or that the falchion sheathed had lost its charm;
Or weary of the mournful bugle call
Scarce ever silent; or replete with blood,
Well nigh betrayed their general and sold
For hope of gain their honour and their cause.
No other perilous shock gave surer proof
How trembled 'neath his feet the dizzy height
From which great Caesar looked. A moment since
His high behest drew nations to the field:
Now, maimed of all, he sees that swords once drawn
Are weapons for the soldier, not the chief.
From the stern ranks no doubtful murmur rose;
Not silent anger as when one conspires,
His comrades doubting, feared himself in turn;
Alone (he thinks) indignant at the wrongs
Wrought by the despot. In so great a host
Dread found no place. Where thousands share the guilt
Crime goes unpunished. Thus from dauntless throats
They hurled their menace: "Caesar, give us leave
To quit thy crimes; thou seek'st by land and sea
The sword to slay us; let the fields of Gaul
And far Iberia, and the world proclaim
How for thy victories our comrades fell.
What boots it us that by an army's blood
The Rhine and Rhone and all the northern lands
Thou hast subdued? Thou giv'st us civil war
For all these battles; such the prize. When fled
The Senate trembling, and when Rome was ours
What homes or temples did we spoil? Our hands
Reek with offence! Aye, but our poverty
Proclaims our innocence! What end shall be
Of arms and armies? What shall be enough
If Rome suffice not? and what lies beyond?
Behold these silvered locks, these nerveless hands
And shrunken arms, once stalwart! In thy wars
Gone is the strength of life, gone all its pride!
Dismiss thine aged soldiers to their deaths.
How shameless is our prayer! Not on hard turf
To stretch our dying limbs; nor seek in vain,
When parts the soul, a hand to close our eyes;
Not with the helmet strike the stony clod: (19)
Rather to feel the dear one's last embrace,
And gain a humble but a separate tomb.
Let nature end old age. And dost thou think
We only know not what degree of crime
Will fetch the highest price? What thou canst dare
These years have proved, or nothing; law divine
Nor human ordinance shall hold thine hand.
Thou wert our leader on the banks of Rhine;
Henceforth our equal; for the stain of crime
Makes all men like to like. Add that we serve
A thankless chief: as fortune's gift he takes
The fruits of victory our arms have won.
We are his fortunes, and his fates are ours
To fashion as we will. Boast that the gods
Shall do thy bidding! Nay, thy soldiers' will
Shall close the war." With threatening mien and speech
Thus through the camp the troops demand their chief.
When faith and loyalty are fled, and hope
For aught but evil, thus may civil war
In mutiny and discord find its end!
What general had not feared at such revolt?
But mighty Caesar trusting on the throw,
As was his wont, his fortune, and o'erjoyed
To front their anger raging at its height
Unflinching comes. No temples of the gods,
Not Jove's high fane on the Tarpeian rock,
Not Rome's high dames nor maidens had he grudged
To their most savage lust: that they should ask
The worst, his wish, and love the spoils of war.
Nor feared he aught save order at the hands
Of that unconquered host. Art thou not shamed
That strife should please thee only, now condemned
Even by thy minions? Shall they shrink from blood,
They from the sword recoil? and thou rush on
Heedless of guilt, through right and through unright,
Nor learn that men may lay their arms aside
Yet bear to live? This civil butchery
Escapes thy grasp. Stay thou thy crimes at length;
Nor force thy will on those who will no more.
Upon a turfy mound unmoved he stood
And, since he feared not, worthy to be feared;
And thus while anger stirred his soul began:
"Thou that with voice and hand didst rage but now
Against thine absent chief, behold me here;
Here strike thy sword into this naked breast,
To stay the war; and flee, if such thy wish.
This mutiny devoid of daring deed
Betrays your coward souls, betrays the youth
Who tires of victories which gild the arms
Of an unconquered chief, and yearns for flight.
Well, leave me then to battle and to fate!
I cast you forth; for every weapon left,
Fortune shall find a man, to wield it well.
Shall Magnus in his flight with such a fleet
Draw nations in his train; and not to me as
My victories bring hosts, to whom shall fall
The prize of war accomplished, who shall reap
Your laurels scorned, and scathless join the train
That leads my chariot to the sacred hill?
While you, despised in age and worn in war,
Gaze on our triumph from the civic crowd.
Think you your dastard flight shall give me pause?
If all the rivers that now seek the sea
Were to withdraw their waters, it would fail
By not one inch, no more than by their flow
It rises now. Have then your efforts given
Strength to my cause? Not so: the heavenly gods
Stoop not so low; fate has no time to judge
Your lives and deaths. The fortunes of the world
Follow heroic souls: for the fit few
The many live; and you who terrified
With me the northern and Iberian worlds,
Would flee when led by Magnus. Strong in arms
For Caesar's cause was Labienus; (20) now
That vile deserter, with his chief preferred,
Wanders o'er land and sea. Nor were your faith
One whit more firm to me if, neither side
Espoused, you ceased from arms. Who leaves me once,
Though not to fight against me with the foe,
Joins not my ranks again. Surely the gods
Smile on these arms who for so great a war
Grant me fresh soldiers. From what heavy load
Fortune relieves me! for the hands which aimed
At all, to which the world did not suffice,
I now disarm, and for myself alone
Reserve the conflict. Quit ye, then, my camp,
`Quirites', (21) Caesar's soldiers now no more,
And leave my standards to the grasp of men!
Yet some who led this mad revolt I hold,
Not as their captain now, but as their judge.
Lie, traitors, prone on earth, stretch out the neck
And take th' avenging blow. And thou whose strength
Shall now support me, young and yet untaught,
Behold the doom and learn to strike and die."
Such were his words of ire, and all the host
Drew back and trembled at the voice of him
They would depose, as though their very swords
Would from their scabbards leap at his command
Themselves unwilling; but he only feared
Lest hand and blade to satisfy the doom
Might be denied, till they submitting pledged
Their lives and swords alike, beyond his hope.
To strike and suffer (22) holds in surest thrall
The heart inured to guilt; and Caesar kept,
By dreadful compact ratified in blood,
Those whom he feared to lose.
He bids them march
Upon Brundusium, and recalls the ships
From soft Calabria's inlets and the point
Of Leucas, and the Salapinian marsh,
Where sheltered Sipus nestles at the feet
Of rich Garganus, jutting from the shore
In huge escarpment that divides the waves
Of Hadria; on each hand, his seaward slopes
Buffeted by the winds; or Auster borne
From sweet Apulia, or the sterner blast
Of Boreas rushing from Dalmatian strands.
But Caesar entered trembling Rome unarmed,
Now taught to serve him in the garb of peace.
Dictator named, to grant their prayers, forsooth:
Consul, in honour of the roll of Rome.
Then first of all the names by which we now
Lie to our masters, men found out the use:
For to preserve his right to wield the sword
He mixed the civil axes with his brands;
With eagles, fasces; with an empty word
Clothing his power; and stamped upon the time
A worthy designation; for what name
Could better mark the dread Pharsalian year
Than "Caesar, Consul"? (23) Now the famous field
Pretends its ancient ceremonies: calls
The tribes in order and divides the votes
In vain solemnity of empty urns.
Nor do they heed the portents of the sky:
Deaf were the augurs to the thunder roll;
The owl flew on the left; yet were the birds
Propitious sworn. Then was the ancient name
Degraded first; and monthly Consuls, (24)
Shorn of their rank, are chosen to mark the years.
And Trojan Alba's (25) god (since Latium's fall
Deserving not) beheld the wonted fires
Blaze from his altars on the festal night.
Then through Apulia's fallows, that her hinds
Left all untilled, to sluggish weeds a prey
Passed Caesar onward, swifter than the fire
Of heaven, or tigress dam: until he reached
Brundusium's winding ramparts, built of old
By Cretan colonists. There icy winds
Constrained the billows, and his trembling fleet
Feared for the winter storms nor dared the main.
But Caesar's soul burned at the moments lost
For speedy battle, nor could brook delay
Within the port, indignant that the sea
Should give safe passage to his routed foe:
And thus he stirred his troops, in seas unskilled,
With words of courage: "When the winter wind
Has seized on sky and ocean, firm its hold;
But the inconstancy of cloudy spring
Permits no certain breezes to prevail
Upon the billows. Straight shall be our course.
No winding nooks of coast, but open seas
Struck by the northern wind alone we plough,
And may he bend the spars, and bear us swift
To Grecian cities; else Pompeius' oars,
Smiting the billows from Phaeacian (26) coasts,
May catch our flagging sails. Cast loose the ropes
From our victorious prows. Too long we waste
Tempests that blow to bear us to our goal."
Now sank the sun to rest; the evening star
Shone on the darkening heaven, and the moon
Reigned with her paler light, when all the fleet
Freed from retaining cables seized the main.
With slackened sheet the canvas wooed the breeze,
Which rose and fell and fitful died away,
Till motionless the sails, and all the waves
Were still as deepest pool, where never wind
Ripples the surface. Thus in Scythian climes
Cimmerian Bosphorus restrains the deep
Bound fast in frosty fetters; Ister's streams (27)
No more impel the main, and ships constrained
Stand fast in ice; and while in depths below
The waves still murmur, loud the charger's hoof
Sounds on the surface, and the travelling wheel
Furrows a track upon the frozen marsh.
Cruel as tempest was the calm that lay
In stagnant pools upon the mournful deep:
Against the course of nature lay outstretched
A rigid ocean: 'twas as if the sea
Forgat its ancient ways and knew no more
The ceaseless tides, nor any breeze of heaven,
Nor quivered at the image of the sun,
Mirrored upon its wave. For while the fleet
Hung in mid passage motionless, the foe
Might hurry to attack, with sturdy stroke
Churning the deep; or famine's deadly grip
Might seize the ships becalmed. For dangers new
New vows they find. "May mighty winds arise
And rouse the ocean, and this sluggish plain
Cast off stagnation and be sea once more."
Thus did they pray, but cloudless shone the sky,
Unrippled slept the surface of the main;
Until in misty clouds the moon arose
And stirred the depths, and moved the fleet along
Towards the Ceraunian headland; and the waves
And favouring breezes followed on the ships,
Now speeding faster, till (their goal attained)
They cast their anchors on Palaeste's (28) shore.
This land first saw the chiefs in neighbouring camps
Confronted, which the streams of Apsus bound
And swifter Genusus; a lengthy course
Is run by neither, but on Apsus' waves
Scarce flowing from a marsh, the frequent boat
Finds room to swim; while on the foamy bed
Of Genusus by sun or shower compelled
The melted snows pour seawards. Here were met
(So Fortune ordered it) the mighty pair;
And in its woes the world yet vainly hoped
That brought to nearer touch their crime itself
Might bleed abhorrence: for from either camp
Voices were clearly heard and features seen.
Nor e'er, Pompeius, since that distant day
When Caesar's daughter and thy spouse was reft
By pitiless fate away, nor left a pledge,
Did thy loved kinsman (save on sands of Nile)
So nearly look upon thy face again.
But Caesar's mind though frenzied for the fight
Was forced to pause until Antonius brought
The rearward troops; Antonius even now
Rehearsing Leucas' fight. With prayers and threats
Caesar exhorts him. "Why delay the fates,
Thou cause of evil to the suffering world?
My speed hath won the major part: from thee
Fortune demands the final stroke alone.
Do Libyan whirlpools with deceitful tides
Uncertain separate us? Is the deep
Untried to which I call? To unknown risks
Art thou commanded? Caesar bids thee come,
Thou sluggard, not to leave him. Long ago
I ran my ships midway through sands and shoals
To harbours held by foes; and dost thou fear
My friendly camp? I mourn the waste of days
Which fate allotted us. Upon the waves
And winds I call unceasing: hold not back
Thy willing troops, but let them dare the sea;
Here gladly shall they come to join my camp,
Though risking shipwreck. Not in equal shares
The world has fallen between us: thou alone
Dost hold Italia, but Epirus I
And all the lords of Rome." Twice called and thrice
Antonius lingered still: but Caesar thought
To reap in full the favour of the gods,
Not sit supine; and knowing danger yields
To whom heaven favours, he upon the waves
Feared by Antonius' fleets, in shallow boat
Embarked, and daring sought the further shore.
Now gentle night had brought repose from arms;
And sleep, blest guardian of the poor man's couch,
Restored the weary; and the camp was still.
The hour was come that called the second watch
When mighty Caesar, in the silence vast
With cautious tread advanced to such a deed (29)
As slaves should dare not. Fortune for his guide,
Alone he passes on, and o'er the guard
Stretched in repose he leaps, in secret wrath
At such a sleep. Pacing the winding beach,
Fast to a sea-worn rock he finds a boat
On ocean's marge afloat. Hard by on shore
Its master dwelt within his humble home.
No solid front it reared, for sterile rush
And marshy reed enwoven formed the walls,
Propped by a shallop with its bending sides
Turned upwards. Caesar's hand upon the door
Knocks twice and thrice until the fabric shook.
Amyclas from his couch of soft seaweed
Arising, calls: "What shipwrecked sailor seeks
My humble home? Who hopes for aid from me,
By fates adverse compelled?" He stirs the heap
Upon the hearth, until a tiny spark
Glows in the darkness, and throws wide the door.
Careless of war, he knew that civil strife
Stoops not to cottages. Oh! happy life
That poverty affords! great gift of heaven
Too little understood! what mansion wall,
What temple of the gods, would feel no fear
When Caesar called for entrance? Then the chief:
"Enlarge thine hopes and look for better things.
Do but my bidding, and on yonder shore
Place me, and thou shalt cease from one poor boat
To earn thy living; and in years to come
Look for a rich old age: and trust thy fates
To those high gods whose wont it is to bless
The poor with sudden plenty." So he spake
E'en at such time in accents of command,
For how could Caesar else? Amyclas said,
"'Twere dangerous to brave the deep to-night.
The sun descended not in ruddy clouds
Or peaceful rays to rest; part of his beams
Presaged a southern gale, the rest proclaimed
A northern tempest; and his middle orb,
Shorn of its strength, permitted human eyes
To gaze upon his grandeur; and the moon
Rose not with silver horns upon the night
Nor pure in middle space; her slender points
Not drawn aright, but blushing with the track
Of raging tempests, till her lurid light
Was sadly veiled within the clouds. Again
The forest sounds; the surf upon the shore;
The dolphin's mood, uncertain where to play;
The sea-mew on the land; the heron used
To wade among the shallows, borne aloft
And soaring on his wings -- all these alarm;
The raven, too, who plunged his head in spray,
As if to anticipate the coming rain,
And trod the margin with unsteady gait.
But if the cause demands, behold me thine.
Either we reach the bidden shore, or else
Storm and the deep forbid -- we can no more."
Thus said he loosed the boat and raised the sail.
No sooner done than stars were seen to fall
In flaming furrows from the sky: nay, more;
The pole star trembled in its place on high:
Black horror marked the surging of the sea;
The main was boiling in long tracts of foam,
Uncertain of the wind, yet seized with storm.
Then spake the captain of the trembling bark:
"See what remorseless ocean has in store!
Whether from east or west the storm may come
Is still uncertain, for as yet confused
The billows tumble. Judged by clouds and sky
A western tempest: by the murmuring deep
A wild south-eastern gale shall sweep the sea.
Nor bark nor man shall reach Hesperia's shore
In this wild rage of waters. To return
Back on our course forbidden by the gods,
Is our one refuge, and with labouring boat
To reach the shore ere yet the nearest land
Way be too distant."
But great Caesar's trust
Was in himself, to make all dangers yield.
And thus he answered: "Scorn the threatening sea,
Spread out thy canvas to the raging wind;
If for thy pilot thou refusest heaven,
Me in its stead receive. Alone in thee
One cause of terror just -- thou dost not know
Thy comrade, ne'er deserted by the gods,
Whom fortune blesses e'en without a prayer.
Break through the middle storm and trust in me.
The burden of this fight fails not on us
But on the sky and ocean; and our bark
Shall swim the billows safe in him it bears.
Nor shall the wind rage long: the boat itself
Shall calm the waters. Flee the nearest shore,
Steer for the ocean with unswerving hand:
Then in the deep, when to our ship and us
No other port is given, believe thou hast
Calabria's harbours. And dost thou not know
The purpose of such havoc? Fortune seeks
In all this tumult of the sea and sky
A boon for Caesar." Then a hurricane
Swooped on the boat and tore away the sheet:
The fluttering sail fell on the fragile mast:
And groaned the joints. From all the universe
Commingled perils rush. In Atlas' seas
First Corus (30) lifts his head, and stirs the depths
To fury, and had forced upon the rocks
Whole seas and oceans; but the chilly north
Drove back the deep that doubted which was lord.
But Scythian Aquilo prevailed, whose blast
Tossed up the main and showed as shallow pools
Each deep abyss; and yet was not the sea
Heaped on the crags, for Corus' billows met
The waves of Boreas: such seas had clashed
Even were the winds withdrawn; Eurus enraged
Burst from the cave, and Notus black with rain,
And all the winds from every part of heaven
Strove for their own; and thus the ocean stayed
Within his boundaries. No petty seas
Rapt in the storm are whirled. The Tuscan deep
Invades th' Aegean; in Ionian gulfs
Sounds wandering Hadria. How long the crags
Which that day fell, the Ocean's blows had braved!
What lofty peaks did vanquished earth resign!
And yet on yonder coast such mighty waves
Took not their rise; from distant regions came
Those monster billows, driven on their course
By that great current which surrounds the world. (31)
Thus did the King of Heaven, when length of years
Wore out the forces of his thunder, call
His brother's trident to his help, what time
The earth and sea one second kingdom formed
And ocean knew no limit but the sky.
Now, too, the sea had risen to the stars
In mighty mass, had not Olympus' chief
Pressed down its waves with clouds: came not from heaven
That night, as others; but the murky air
Was dim with pallor of the realms below; (32)
The sky lay on the deep; within the clouds
The waves received the rain: the lightning flash
Clove through the parted air a path obscured
By mist and darkness: and the heavenly vaults
Re-echoed to the tumult, and the frame
That holds the sky was shaken. Nature feared
Chaos returned, as though the elements
Had burst their bonds, and night had come to mix
Th' infernal shades with heaven.
In such turmoil
Not to have perished was their only hope.
Far as from Leucas point the placid main
Spreads to the horizon, from the billow's crest
They viewed the dashing of th' infuriate sea;
Thence sinking to the middle trough, their mast
Scarce topped the watery height on either hand,
Their sails in clouds, their keel upon the ground.
For all the sea was piled into the waves,
And drawn from depths between laid bare the sand.
The master of the boat forgot his art,
For fear o'ercame; he knew not where to yield
Or where to meet the wave: but safety came
From ocean's self at war: one billow forced
The vessel under, but a huger wave
Repelled it upwards, and she rode the storm
Through every blast triumphant. Not the shore
Of humble Sason (33), nor Thessalia's coast
Indented, not Ambracia's scanty ports
Dismay the sailors, but the giddy tops
Of high Ceraunia's cliffs.
But Caesar now,
Thinking the peril worthy of his fates:
"Are such the labours of the gods?" exclaimed,
"Bent on my downfall have they sought me thus,
Here in this puny skiff in such a sea?
If to the deep the glory of my fall
Is due, and not to war, intrepid still
Whatever death they send shall strike me down.
Let fate cut short the deeds that I would do
And hasten on the end: the past is mine.
The northern nations fell beneath my sword;
My dreaded name compels the foe to flee.
Pompeius yields me place; the people's voice
Gave at my order what the wars denied.
And all the titles which denote the powers
Known to the Roman state my name shall bear.
Let none know this but thou who hear'st my prayers,
Fortune, that Caesar summoned to the shades,
Dictator, Consul, full of honours, died
Ere his last prize was won. I ask no pomp
Of pyre or funeral; let my body lie
Mangled beneath the waves: I leave a name
That men shall dread in ages yet to come
And all the earth shall honour." Thus he spake,
When lo! a tenth gigantic billow raised
The feeble keel, and where between the rocks
A cleft gave safety, placed it on the shore.
Thus in a moment fortune, kingdoms, lands,
Once more were Caesar's.
But on his return
When daylight came, he entered not the camp
Silent as when he parted; for his friends
Soon pressed around him, and with weeping eyes
In accents welcome to his ears began:
"Whither in reckless daring hast thou gone,
Unpitying Caesar? Were these humble lives
Left here unguarded while thy limbs were given,
Unsought for, to be scattered by the storm?
When on thy breath so many nations hang
For life and safety, and so great a world
Calls thee its master, to have courted death
Proves want of heart. Was none of all thy friends
Deserving held to join his fate with thine?
When thou wast tossed upon the raging deep
We lay in slumber! Shame upon such sleep!
And why thyself didst seek Italia's shores?
'Twere cruel (such thy thought) to speak the word
That bade another dare the furious sea.
All men must bear what chance or fate may bring,
The sudden peril and the stroke of death;
But shall the ruler of the world attempt
The raging ocean? With incessant prayers
Why weary heaven? is it indeed enough
To crown the war, that Fortune and the deep
Have cast thee on our shores? And would'st thou use
The grace of favouring deities, to gain
Not lordship, not the empire of the world,
But lucky shipwreck!" Night dispersed, and soon
The sun beamed on them, and the wearied deep,
The winds permitting, lulled its waves to rest.
And when Antonius saw a breeze arise
Fresh from a cloudless heaven, to break the sea,
He loosed his ships which, by the pilots' hands
And by the wind in equal order held,
Swept as a marching host across the main.
But night unfriendly from the seamen snatched
All governance of sail, parting the ships
In divers paths asunder. Like as cranes
Deserting frozen Strymon for the streams
Of Nile, when winter falls, in casual lines
Of wedge-like figures (34) first ascend the sky;
But when in loftier heaven the southern breeze
Strikes on their pinions tense, in loose array
Dispersed at large, in flight irregular,
They wing their journey onwards. Stronger winds
With day returning blew the navy on,
Past Lissus' shelter which they vainly sought,
Till bare to northern blasts, Nymphaeum's port,
But safe in southern, gave the fleet repose,
For favouring winds came on.
When Magnus knew
That Caesar's troops were gathered in their strength
And that the war for quick decision called
Before his camp, Cornelia he resolved
To send to Lesbos' shore, from rage of fight
Safe and apart: so lifting from his soul
The weight that burdened it. Thus, lawful Love.
Thus art thou tyrant o'er the mightiest mind!
His spouse was the one cause why Magnus stayed
Nor met his fortunes, though he staked the world
And all the destinies of Rome. The word
He speaks not though resolved; so sweet it seemed,
When on the future pondering, to gain
A pause from Fate! But at the close of night,
When drowsy sleep had fled, Cornelia sought
To soothe the anxious bosom of her lord
And win his kisses. Then amazed she saw
His cheek was tearful, and with boding soul
She shrank instinctive from the hidden wound,
Nor dared to rouse him weeping. But he spake:
"Dearer to me than life itself, when life
Is happy (not at moments such as these);
The day of sorrow comes, too long delayed,
Nor long enough! With Caesar at our gates
With all his forces, a secure retreat
Shall Lesbos give thee. Try me not with prayers.
This fatal boon I have denied myself.
Thou wilt not long be absent from thy lord.
Disasters hasten, and things highest fall
With speediest ruin. 'Tis enough for thee
To hear of Magnus' peril; and thy love (35)
Deceives thee with the thought that thou canst gaze
Unmoved on civil strife. It shames my soul
On the eve of war to slumber at thy side,
And rise from thy dear breast when trumpets call
A woeful world to misery and arms.
I fear in civil war to feel no loss
To Magnus. Meantime safer than a king
Lie hid, nor let the fortune of thy lord
Whelm thee with all its weight. If unkind heaven
Our armies rout, still let my choicest part
Survive in thee; if fated is my flight,
Still leave me that whereto I fain would flee."
Hardly at first her senses grasped the words
In their full misery; then her mind amazed
Could scarce find utterance for the grief that pressed.
"Nought, Magnus, now is left wherewith to upbraid
The gods and fates of marriage; 'tis not death
That parts our love, nor yet the funeral pyre,
Nor that dread torch which marks the end of all.
I share the ignoble lot of vulgar lives:
My spouse rejects me. Yes, the foe is come!
Break we our bonds and Julia's sire appease! --
Is this thy consort, Magnus, this thy faith
In her fond loving heart? Can danger fright
Her and not thee? Long since our mutual fates
Hang by one chain; and dost thou bid me now
The thunder-bolts of ruin to withstand
Without thee? Is it well that I should die
Even while you pray for fortune? And suppose
I flee from evil and with death self-sought
Follow thy footsteps to the realms below --
Am I to live till to that distant isle
Some tardy rumour of thy fall may come?
Add that thou fain by use would'st give me strength
To bear such sorrow and my doom. Forgive
Thy wife confessing that she fears the power.
And if my prayers shall bring the victory,
The joyful tale shall come to me the last
In that lone isle of rocks. When all are glad,
My heart shall throb with anguish, and the sail
Which brings the message I shall see with fear,
Not safe e'en then: for Caesar in his flight
Might seize me there, abandoned and alone
To be his hostage. If thou place me there,
The spouse of Magnus, shall not all the world
Well know the secret Mitylene holds?
This my last prayer: if all is lost but flight,
And thou shalt seek the ocean, to my shores
Turn not thy keel, ill-fated one: for there,
There will they seek thee." Thus she spoke distraught,
Leaped from the couch and rushed upon her fate;
No stop nor stay: she clung not to his neck
Nor threw her arms about him; both forego
The last caress, the last fond pledge of love,
And grief rushed in unchecked upon their souls;
Still gazing as they part no final words
Could either utter, and the sweet Farewell
Remained unspoken. This the saddest day
Of all their lives: for other woes that came
More gently struck on hearts inured to grief.
Borne to the shore with failing limbs she fell
And grasped the sands, embracing, till at last
Her maidens placed her senseless in the ship.
Not in such grief she left her country's shores
When Caesar's host drew near; for now she leaves,
Though faithful to her lord, his side in flight
And flees her spouse. All that next night she waked;
Then first what means a widowed couch she knew,
Its cold, its solitude. When slumber found
Her eyelids, and forgetfulness her soul,
Seeking with outstretched arms the form beloved,
She grasps but air. Though tossed by restless love,
She leaves a place beside her as for him
Returning. Yet she feared Pompeius lost
To her for ever. But the gods ordained
Worse than her fears, and in the hour of woe
Gave her to look upon his face again.
(1) The Pleiades, said to be daughters of Atlas.
(2) These were the Consuls for the expiring year, B.C. 49 --
Caius Marcellus and L. Lentulus Crus.
(3) That is to say, Caesar's Senate at Rome could boast of those
Senators only whom it had, before Pompeius' flight, declared
public enemies. But they were to be regarded as exiles,
having lost their rights, rather than the Senators in
Epirus, who were in full possession of theirs.
(4) Dean Merivale says that probably Caesar's Senate was not
less numerous than his rival's. Duruy says there were
senators in Pompeius' camp, out of a total of between 500
and 600. Mommsen says, "they were veritably emigrants.
This Roman Coblentz presented a pitiful spectacle of the
high pretensions and paltry performances of the grandees of
Rome." (Vol. iv., p. 397.) Almost all the Consulars were
(5) By the will of Ptolemy Auletes, Cleopatra had been appointed
joint sovereign of Egypt with her young brother. Lucan
means that Caesar would have killed Pompeius if young
Ptolemy had not done so. She lost her hare of the kingdom,
and Caesar was clear of the crime.
(6) Appius was Proconsul, and in command of Achaia, for the
(7) See Book IV., 82.
(8) Themis, the goddess of law, was in possession of the Delphic
oracle, previous to Apollo. (Aesch., "Eumenides", line 2.)
(9) The modern isle of Ischia, off the Bay of Naples.
(10) The Tyrians consulted the oracle in consequence of the
earthquakes which vexed their country (Book III., line 225),
and were told to found colonies.
(11) See Herodotus, Book VII., 140-143. The reference is to the
answer given by the oracle to the Athenians that their
wooden walls would keep them safe; which Themistocles
interpreted as meaning their fleet.
(12) Cicero, on the contrary, suggests that the reason why the
oracles ceased was this, that men became less credulous.
("De Div.", ii., 57) Lecky, "History of European Morals
from Augustus to Charlemagne", vol. i., p. 368.
(13) This name is one of those given to the Cumaean Sibyl
mentioned at line 210. She was said to have been the
daughter of Apollo.
(14) Probably by the Gauls under Brennus, B.C. 279.
(15) These lines form the Latin motto prefixed to Shelley's poem,
"The Demon of the World".
(16) Referring to the visit of Aeneas to the Sibyl. (Virgil,
"Aeneid", vi., 70, &c.)
(17) Appius was seized with fever as soon as he reached the spot;
and there he died and was buried, thus fulfilling the
(18) That is, Nemesis.
(19) Reading "galeam", with Francken; not "glebam".
(20) Labienus left Caesar's ranks after the Rubicon was crossed,
and joined his rival. In his mouth Lucan puts the speech
made at the oracle of Hammon in Book IX. He was slain at
Munda, B.C. 45.
(21) That is, civilians; no longer soldiers. This one
contemptuous expression is said to have shocked and abashed
the army. (Tacitus, "Annals", I., 42.)
(22) Reading "tenet", with Hosius and Francken; not "timet", as
Haskins. The prospect of inflicting punishment attracted,
while the suffering of it subdued, the mutineers.
(23) Caesar was named Dictator while at Massilia. Entering Rome,
he held the office for eleven days only, but was elected
Consul for the incoming year, B.C. 48, along with Servilius
Isauricus. (Caesar, "De Bello Civili", iii., 1; Merivale,
(24) In the time of the Empire, the degraded Consulship,
preserved only as a name, was frequently transferred
monthly, or even shorter, intervals from one favourite to
(25) Caesar performed the solemn rites of the great Latin
festival on the Alban Mount during his Dictatorship.
(Compare Book VII., line 471.)
(26) Dyrrhachium was founded by the Corcyreams, with whom the
Homeric Phaeacians have been identified.
(27) Apparently making the Danube discharge into the Sea of Azov.
See Mr. Heitland's Introduction, p. 53.
(28) At the foot of the Acroceraunian range.
(29) Caesar himself says nothing of this adventure. But it is
mentioned by Dion, Appian and Plutarch ("Caesar", 38). Dean
Merivale thinks the story may have been invented to
introduce the apophthegm used by Caesar to the sailor, "Fear
nothing: you carry Caesar and his fortunes" (lines 662-665).
Mommsen accepts the story, as of an attempt which was only
abandoned because no mariner could be induced to undertake
it. Lucan colours it with his wildest and most exaggerated
(30) See Book I., 463.
(31) The ocean current, which, according to Hecataeus, surrounded
the world. But Herodotus of this theory says, "For my part
I know of no river called Ocean, and I think that Homer or
one of the earlier poets invented the name and introduced it
into his poetry." (Book II., 23, and Book IV., 36.) In
"Oceanus" Aeschylus seems to have intended to personify the
great surrounding stream. ("Prom. Vinc.", lines 291, 308.)
(32) Comp. VI., 615.
(33) Sason is a small island just off the Ceraunian rocks, the
point of which is now called Cape Linguetta, and is nearly
opposite to Brindisi.
(34) Compare "Paradise Lost", VII., 425.
(35) Reading "Teque tuus decepit amor", as preferred by Hosius.
THE FIGHT NEAR DYRRHACHIUM. SCAEVA'S EXPLOITS. THE WITCH OF
Now that the chiefs with minds intent on fight
Had drawn their armies near upon the hills
And all the gods beheld their chosen pair,
Caesar, the Grecian towns despising, scorned
To reap the glory of successful war
Save at his kinsman's cost. In all his prayers
He seeks that moment, fatal to the world,
When shall be cast the die, to win or lose,
And all his fortune hang upon the throw.
Thrice he drew out his troops, his eagles thrice,
Demanding battle; thus to increase the woe
Of Latium, prompt as ever: but his foes,
Proof against every art, refused to leave
The rampart of their camp. Then marching swift
By hidden path between the wooded fields
He seeks, and hopes to seize, Dyrrhachium's (1) fort;
But Magnus, speeding by the ocean marge,
First camped on Petra's slopes, a rocky hill
Thus by the natives named. From thence he keeps
Watch o'er the fortress of Corinthian birth
Which by its towers alone without a guard
Was safe against a siege. No hand of man
In ancient days built up her lofty wall,
No hammer rang upon her massive stones:
Not all the works of war, nor Time himself
Shall undermine her. Nature's hand has raised
Her adamantine rocks and hedged her in
With bulwarks girded by the foamy main:
And but for one short bridge of narrow earth
Dyrrhachium were an island. Steep and fierce,
Dreaded of sailors, are the cliffs that bear
Her walls; and tempests, howling from the west,
Toss up the raging main upon the roofs;
And homes and temples tremble at the shock.
Thirsting for battle and with hopes inflamed
Here Caesar hastes, with distant rampart lines
Seeking unseen to coop his foe within,
Though spread in spacious camp upon the hills.
With eagle eye he measures out the land
Meet to be compassed, nor content with turf
Fit for a hasty mound, he bids his troops
Tear from the quarries many a giant rock:
And spoils the dwellings of the Greeks, and drags
Their walls asunder for his own. Thus rose
A mighty barrier which no ram could burst
Nor any ponderous machine of war.
Mountains are cleft, and level through the hills
The work of Caesar strides: wide yawns the moat,
Forts show their towers rising on the heights,
And in vast circle forests are enclosed
And groves and spacious lands, and beasts of prey,
As in a line of toils. Pompeius lacked
Nor field nor forage in th' encircled span
Nor room to move his camp; nay, rivers rose
Within, and ran their course and reached the sea;
And Caesar wearied ere he saw the whole,
And daylight failed him. Let the ancient tale
Attribute to the labours of the gods
The walls of Ilium: let the fragile bricks
Which compass in great Babylon, amaze
The fleeting Parthian. Here a larger space
Than those great cities which Orontes swift
And Tigris' stream enclose, or that which boasts
In Eastern climes, the lordly palaces
Fit for Assyria's kings, is closed by walls
Amid the haste and tumult of a war
Forced to completion. Yet this labour huge
Was spent in vain. So many hands had joined
Or Sestos with Abydos, or had tamed
With mighty mole the Hellespontine wave,
Or Corinth from the realm of Pelops' king
Had rent asunder, or had spared each ship
Her voyage round the long Malean cape,
Or had done anything most hard, to change
The world's created surface. Here the war
Was prisoned: blood predestinate to flow
In all the parts of earth; the host foredoomed
To fall in Libya or in Thessaly
Was here: in such small amphitheatre
The tide of civil passion rose and fell.
At first Pompeius knew not: so the hind
Who peaceful tills the mid-Sicilian fields
Hears not Pelorous (2) sounding to the storm;
So billows thunder on Rutupian shores (3),
Unheard by distant Caledonia's tribes.
But when he saw the mighty barrier stretch
O'er hill and valley, and enclose the land,
He bade his columns leave their rocky hold
And seize on posts of vantage in the plain;
Thus forcing Caesar to extend his troops
On wider lines; and holding for his own
Such space encompassed as divides from Rome
Aricia, (4) sacred to that goddess chaste
Of old Mycenae; or as Tiber holds
From Rome's high ramparts to the Tuscan sea,
Unless he deviate. No bugle call
Commands an onset, and the darts that fly
Fly though forbidden; but the arm that flings
For proof the lance, at random, here and there
Deals impious slaughter. Weighty care compelled
Each leader to withhold his troops from fight;
For there the weary earth of produce failed
Pressed by Pompeius' steeds, whose horny hoofs
Rang in their gallop on the grassy fields
And killed the succulence. They strengthless lay
Upon the mown expanse, nor pile of straw,
Brought from full barns in place of living grass,
Relieved their craving; shook their panting flanks,
And as they wheeled Death struck his victim down.
Then foul contagion filled the murky air
Whose poisonous weight pressed on them in a cloud
Pestiferous; as in Nesis' isle (5) the breath
Of Styx rolls upwards from the mist-clad rocks;
Or that fell vapour which the caves exhale
From Typhon (6) raging in the depths below.
Then died the soldiers, for the streams they drank
Held yet more poison than the air: the skin
Was dark and rigid, and the fiery plague
Made hard their vitals, and with pitiless tooth
Gnawed at their wasted features, while their eyes
Started from out their sockets, and the head
Drooped for sheer weariness. So the disease
Grew swifter in its strides till scarce was room,
'Twixt life and death, for sickness, and the pest
Slew as it struck its victim, and the dead
Thrust from the tents (such all their burial) lay
Blent with the living. Yet their camp was pitched
Hard by the breezy sea by which might come
All nations' harvests, and the northern wind
Not seldom rolled the murky air away.
Their foe, not vexed with pestilential air
Nor stagnant waters, ample range enjoyed
Upon the spacious uplands: yet as though
In leaguer, famine seized them for its prey.
Scarce were the crops half grown when Caesar saw
How prone they seized upon the food of beasts,
And stripped of leaves the bushes and the groves,
And dragged from roots unknown the doubtful herb.
Thus ate they, starving, all that teeth may bite
Or fire might soften, or might pass their throats
Dry, parched, abraded; food unknown before
Nor placed on tables: while the leaguered foe
Was blessed with plenty.
When Pompeius first
Was pleased to break his bonds and be at large,
No sudden dash he makes on sleeping foe
Unarmed in shade of night; his mighty soul
Scorns such a path to victory. 'Twas his aim,
To lay the turrets low; to mark his track,
By ruin spread afar; and with the sword
To hew a path between his slaughtered foes.
Minucius' (7) turret was the chosen spot
Where groves of trees and thickets gave approach
Safe, unbetrayed by dust.
Up from the fields
Flashed all at once his eagles into sight
And all his trumpets blared. But ere the sword
Could win the battle, on the hostile ranks
Dread panic fell; prone as in death they lay
Where else upright they should withstand the foe;
Nor more availed their valour, and in vain
The cloud of weapons flew, with none to slay.
Then blazing torches rolling pitchy flame
Are hurled, and shaken nod the lofty towers
And threaten ruin, and the bastions groan
Struck by the frequent engine, and the troops
Of Magnus by triumphant eagles led
Stride o'er the rampart, in their front the world.
Yet now that passage which not Caesar's self
Nor thousand valiant squadrons had availed
To rescue from their grasp, one man in arms
Steadfast till death refused them; Scaeva named
This hero soldier: long he served in fight
Waged 'gainst the savage on the banks of Rhone;
And now centurion made, through deeds of blood,
He bore the staff before the marshalled line.
Prone to all wickedness, he little recked
How valourous deeds in civil war may be
Greatest of crimes; and when he saw how turned
His comrades from the war and sought in flight
A refuge, (8) "Whence," he cried, "this impious fear
Unknown to Caesar's armies? Do ye turn
Your backs on death, and are ye not ashamed
Not to be found where slaughtered heroes lie?
Is loyalty too weak? Yet love of fight
Might bid you stand. We are the chosen few
Through whom the foe would break. Unbought by blood
This day shall not be theirs. 'Neath Caesar's eye,
True, death would be more happy; but this boon
Fortune denies: at least my fall shall be
Praised by Pompeius. Break ye with your breasts
Their weapons; blunt the edges of their swords
With throats unyielding. In the distant lines
The dust is seen already, and the sound
Of tumult and of ruin finds the ear
Of Caesar: strike; the victory is ours:
For he shall come who while his soldiers die
Shall make the fortress his." His voice called forth
The courage that the trumpets failed to rouse
When first they rang: his comrades mustering come
To watch his deeds; and, wondering at the man,
To test if valour thus by foes oppressed,
In narrow space, could hope for aught but death.
But Scaeva standing on the tottering bank
Heaves from the brimming turret on the foe
The corpses of the fallen; the ruined mass
Furnishing weapons to his hands; with beams,
And ponderous stones, nay, with his body threats
His enemies; with poles and stakes he thrusts
The breasts advancing; when they grasp the wall
He lops the arm: rocks crush the foeman's skull
And rive the scalp asunder: fiery bolts
Dashed at another set his hair aflame,
Till rolls the greedy blaze about his eyes
With hideous crackle. As the pile of slain
Rose to the summit of the wall he sprang,
Swift as across the nets a hunted pard,
Above the swords upraised, till in mid throng
Of foes he stood, hemmed in by densest ranks
And ramparted by war; in front and rear,
Where'er he struck, the victor. Now his sword
Blunted with gore congealed no more could wound,
But brake the stricken limb; while every hand
Flung every quivering dart at him alone;
Nor missed their aim, for rang against his shield
Dart after dart unerring, and his helm
In broken fragments pressed upon his brow;
His vital parts were safeguarded by spears
That bristled in his body. Fortune saw
Thus waged a novel combat, for there warred
Against one man an army. Why with darts,
Madmen, assail him and with slender shafts,
'Gainst which his life is proof? Or ponderous stones
This warrior chief shall overwhelm, or bolts
Flung by the twisted thongs of mighty slings.
Let steelshod ram or catapult remove
This champion of the gate. No fragile wall
Stands here for Caesar, blocking with its bulk
Pompeius' way to freedom. Now he trusts
His shield no more, lest his sinister hand,
Idle, give life by shame; and on his breast
Bearing a forest of spears, though spent with toil
And worn with onset, falls upon his foe
And braves alone the wounds of all the war.
Thus may an elephant in Afric wastes,
Oppressed by frequent darts, break those that fall
Rebounding from his horny hide, and shake
Those that find lodgment, while his life within
Lies safe, protected, nor doth spear avail
To reach the fount of blood. Unnumbered wounds
By arrow dealt, or lance, thus fail to slay
This single warrior. But lo! from far
A Cretan archer's shaft, more sure of aim
Than vows could hope for, strikes on Scaeva's brow
To light within his eye: the hero tugs
Intrepid, bursts the nerves, and tears the shaft
Forth with the eyeball, and with dauntless heel
Treads them to dust. Not otherwise a bear
Pannonian, fiercer for the wound received,
Maddened by dart from Libyan thong propelled,
Turns circling on her wound, and still pursues
The weapon fleeing as she whirls around.
Thus, in his rage destroyed, his shapeless face
Stood foul with crimson flow. The victors' shout
Glad to the sky arose; no greater joy
A little blood could give them had they seen
That Caesar's self was wounded. Down he pressed
Deep in his soul the anguish, and, with mien,
No longer bent on fight, submissive cried,
"Spare me, ye citizens; remove the war
Far hence: no weapons now can haste my death;
Draw from my breast the darts, but add no more.
Yet raise me up to place me in the camp
Of Magnus, living: this your gift to him;
No brave man's death my title to renown,
But Caesar's flag deserted." So he spake.
Unhappy Aulus thought his words were true,
Nor saw within his hand the pointed sword;
And leaping forth in haste to make his own
The prisoner and his arms, in middle throat
Received the lightning blade. By this one death
Rose Scaeva's valour again; and thus he cried,
Such be the punishment of all who thought
Great Scaeva vanquished; if Pompeius seeks
Peace from this reeking sword, low let him lay
At Caesar's feet his standards. Me do ye think
Such as yourselves, and slow to meet the fates?
Your love for Magnus and the Senate's cause
Is less than mine for death." These were his words;
And dust in columns proved that Caesar came.
Thus was Pompeius' glory spared the stain
Of flight compelled by Scaeva. He, when ceased
The battle, fell, no more by rage of fight,
Or sight of blood out-pouring from his wounds,
Roused to the combat. Fainting there he lay
Upon the shoulders of his comrades borne,
Who him adoring (as though deity
Dwelt in his bosom) for his matchless deeds,
Plucked forth the gory shafts and took his arms
To deck the gods and shield the breast of Mars.
Thrice happy thou with such a name achieved,
Had but the fierce Iberian from thy sword,
Or heavy shielded Teuton, or had fled
The light Cantabrian: with no spoils shalt thou
Adorn the Thunderer's temple, nor upraise
The shout of triumph in the ways of Rome.
For all thy prowess, all thy deeds of pride
Do but prepare her lord.
Nor on this hand
Repulsed, Pompeius idly ceased from war,
Content within his bars; but as the sea
Tireless, which tempests force upon the crag
That breaks it, or which gnaws a mountain side
Some day to fall in ruin on itself;
He sought the turrets nearest to the main,
On double onset bent; nor closely kept
His troops in hand, but on the spacious plain
Spread forth his camp. They joyful leave the tents
And wander at their will. Thus Padus flows
In brimming flood, and foaming at his bounds,
Making whole districts quake; and should the bank
Fail 'neath his swollen waters, all his stream
Breaks forth in swirling eddies over fields
Not his before; some lands are lost, the rest
Gain from his bounty.
Hardly from his tower
Had Caesar seen the fire or known the fight:
And coming found the rampart overthrown,
The dust no longer stirred, the rains cold
As from a battle done. The peace that reigned
There and on Magnus' side, as though men slept,
Their victory won, aroused his angry soul.
Quick he prepares, so that he end their joy
Careless of slaughter or defeat, to rush
With threatening columns on Torquatus' post.
But swift as sailor, by his trembling mast
Warned of Circeian tempest, furls his sails,
So swift Torquatus saw, and prompt to wage
The war more closely, he withdrew his men
Within a narrower wall.
Now past the trench
Were Caesar's companies, when from the hills
Pompeius hurled his host upon their ranks
Shut in, and hampered. Not so much o'erwhelmed
As Caesar's soldiers is the hind who dwells
On Etna's slopes, when blows the southern wind,
And all the mountain pours its cauldrons forth
Upon the vale; and huge Enceladus (9)
Writhing beneath his load spouts o'er the plains
A blazing torrent.
Blinded by the dust,
Encircled, vanquished, ere the fight, they fled
In cloud of terror on their rearward foe,
So rushing on their fates. Thus had the war
Shed its last drop of blood and peace ensued,
But Magnus suffered not, and held his troops.
Back from the battle.
Thou, oh Rome, had'st been
Free, happy, mistress of thy laws and rights
Were Sulla here. Now shalt thou ever grieve
That in his crowning crime, to have met in fight
A pious kinsman, Caesar's vantage lay.
Oh tragic destiny! Nor Munda's fight
Hispania had wept, nor Libya mourned
Encrimsoned Utica, nor Nilus' stream,
With blood unspeakable polluted, borne
A nobler corse than her Egyptian kings:
Nor Juba (10) lain unburied on the sands,
Nor Scipio with his blood outpoured appeased
The ghosts of Carthage; nor the blameless life
Of Cato ended: and Pharsalia's name
Had then been blotted from the book of fate.
But Caesar left the region where his arms
Had found the deities averse, and marched
His shattered columns to Thessalian lands.
Then to Pompeius came (whose mind was bent
To follow Caesar wheresoe'er he fled)
His captains, striving to persuade their chief
To seek Ausonia, his native land,
Now freed from foes. "Ne'er will I pass," he said,
"My country's limit, nor revisit Rome
Like Caesar, at the head of banded hosts.
Hesperia when the war began was mine;
Mine, had I chosen in our country's shrines, (11)
In midmost forum of her capital,
To join the battle. So that banished far
Be war from Rome, I'll cross the torrid zone
Or those for ever frozen Scythian shores.
What! shall my victory rob thee of the peace
I gave thee by my flight? Rather than thou
Should'st feel the evils of this impious war,
Let Caesar deem thee his." Thus said, his course
He turned towards the rising of the sun,
And following devious paths, through forests wide,
Made for Emathia, the land by fate
Foredoomed to see the issue.
Thessalia on that side where Titan first
Raises the wintry day, by Ossa's rocks
Is prisoned in: but in th' advancing year
When higher in the vault his chariot rides
'Tis Pelion that meets the morning rays.
And when beside the Lion's flames he drives
The middle course, Othrys with woody top
Screens his chief ardour. On the hither side
Pindus receives the breezes of the west
And as the evening falls brings darkness in.
There too Olympus, at whose foot who dwells
Nor fears the north nor sees the shining bear.
Between these mountains hemmed, in ancient time
The fields were marsh, for Tempe's pass not yet
Was cleft, to give an exit to the streams
That filled the plain: but when Alcides' hand
Smote Ossa from Olympus at a blow, (12)
And Nereus wondered at the sudden flood
Of waters to the main, then on the shore
(Would it had slept for ever 'neath the deep)
Seaborn Achilles' home Pharsalus rose;
And Phylace (13) whence sailed that ship of old
Whose keel first touched upon the beach of Troy;
And Dorion mournful for the Muses' ire
On Thamyris (14) vanquished: Trachis; Melibe
Strong in the shafts (15) of Hercules, the price
Of that most awful torch; Larissa's hold
Potent of yore; and Argos, (16) famous erst,
O'er which men pass the ploughshare: and the spot
Fabled as Echionian Thebes, (17) where once
Agave bore in exile to the pyre
(Grieving 'twas all she had) the head and neck
Of Pentheus massacred. The lake set free
Flowed forth in many rivers: to the west
Aeas, (18) a gentle stream; nor stronger flows
The sire of Isis ravished from his arms;
And Achelous, rival for the hand
Of Oeneus' daughter, rolls his earthy flood (19)
To silt the shore beside the neighbouring isles.
Evenus (20) purpled by the Centaur's blood
Wanders through Calydon: in the Malian Gulf
Thy rapids fall, Spercheius: pure the wave
With which Amphrysos (21) irrigates the meads
Where once Apollo served: Anaurus (22) flows
Breathing no vapour forth; no humid air
Ripples his face: and whatever stream,
Nameless itself, to Ocean gives its waves
Through thee, Peneus: (23) whirled in eddies foams
Apidanus; Enipeus lingers on
Swift only when fresh streams his volume swell:
And thus Asopus takes his ordered course,
Phoenix and Melas; but Eurotas keeps
His stream aloof from that with which he flows,
Peneus, gliding on his top as though
Upon the channel. Fable says that, sprung
From darkest pools of Styx, with common floods
He scorns to mingle, mindful of his source,
So that the gods above may fear him still.
Soon as were sped the rivers, Boebian ploughs
Dark with its riches broke the virgin soil;
Then came Lelegians to press the share,
And Dolopes and sons of Oeolus
By whom the glebe was furrowed. Steed-renowned
Magnetians dwelt there, and the Minyan race
Who smote the sounding billows with the oar.
There in the cavern from the pregnant cloud
Ixion's sons found birth, the Centaur brood
Half beast, half human: Monychus who broke
The stubborn rocks of Pholoe, Rhoetus fierce
Hurling from Oeta's top gigantic elms
Which northern storms could hardly overturn;
Pholus, Alcides' host: Nessus who bore
The Queen across Evenus' (24) waves, to feel
The deadly arrow for his shameful deed;
And aged Chiron (25) who with wintry star
Against the huger Scorpion draws his bow.
Here sparkled on the land the warrior seed; (26)
Here leaped the charger from Thessalian rocks (27)
Struck by the trident of the Ocean King,
Omen of dreadful war; here first he learned,
Champing the bit and foaming at the curb,
Yet to obey his lord. From yonder shore
The keel of pine first floated, (28) and bore men
To dare the perilous chance of seas unknown:
And here Ionus ruler of the land
First from the furnace molten masses drew
Of iron and brass; here first the hammer fell
To weld them, shapeless; here in glowing stream
Ran silver forth and gold, soon to receive
The minting stamp. 'Twas thus that money came
Whereby men count their riches, cause accursed
Of warfare. Hence came down that Python huge
On Cirrha: hence the laurel wreath which crowns
The Pythian victor: here Aloeus' sons
Gigantic rose against the gods, what time
Pelion had almost touched the stars supreme,
And Ossa's loftier peak amid the sky
Opposing, barred the constellations' way.
When in this fated land the chiefs had placed
Their several camps, foreboding of the end
Now fast approaching, all men's thoughts were turned
Upon the final issue of the war.
And as the hour drew near, the coward minds
Trembling beneath the shadow of the fate
Now hanging o'er them, deemed disaster near:
While some took heart; yet doubted what might fall,
In hope and fear alternate. 'Mid the throng
Sextus, unworthy son of worthy sire
Who soon upon the waves that Scylla guards, (29)
Sicilian pirate, exile from his home,
Stained by his deeds of shame the fights he won,
Could bear delay no more; his feeble soul,
Sick of uncertain fate, by fear compelled,
Forecast the future: yet consulted not
The shrine of Delos nor the Pythian caves;
Nor was he satisfied to learn the sound
Of Jove's brass cauldron, 'mid Dodona's oaks,
By her primaeval fruits the nurse of men:
Nor sought he sages who by flight of birds,
Or watching with Assyrian care the stars
And fires of heaven, or by victims slain,
May know the fates to come; nor any source
Lawful though secret. For to him was known
That which excites the hate of gods above;
Magicians' lore, the savage creed of Dis
And all the shades; and sad with gloomy rites
Mysterious altars. For his frenzied soul
Heaven knew too little. And the spot itself
Kindled his madness, for hard by there dwelt
The brood of Haemon (30) whom no storied witch
Of fiction e'er transcended; all their art
In things most strange and most incredible;
There were Thessalian rocks with deadly herbs
Thick planted, sensible to magic chants,
Funereal, secret: and the land was full
Of violence to the gods: the Queenly guest (31)
From Colchis gathered here the fatal roots
That were not in her store: hence vain to heaven
Rise impious incantations, all unheard;
For deaf the ears divine: save for one voice
Which penetrates the furthest depths of airs
Compelling e'en th' unwilling deities
To hearken to its accents. Not the care
Of the revolving sky or starry pole
Can call them from it ever. Once the sound
Of those dread tones unspeakable has reached
The constellations, then nor Babylon
Nor secret Memphis, though they open wide
The shrines of ancient magic and entreat
The gods, could draw them from the fires that smoke
Upon the altars of far Thessaly.
To hearts of flint those incantations bring
Love, strange, unnatural; the old man's breast
Burns with illicit fire. Nor lies the power
In harmful cup nor in the juicy pledge
Of love maternal from the forehead drawn; (32)
Charmed forth by spells alone the mind decays,
By poisonous drugs unharmed. With woven threads
Crossed in mysterious fashion do they bind
Those whom no passion born of beauteous form
Or loving couch unites. All things on earth
Change at their bidding; night usurps the day;
The heavens disobey their wonted laws;
At that dread hymn the Universe stands still;
And Jove while urging the revolving wheels
Wonders they move not. Torrents are outpoured
Beneath a burning sun; and thunder roars
Uncaused by Jupiter. From their flowing locks
Vapours immense shall issue at their call;
When falls the tempest seas shall rise and foam (33)
Moved by their spell; though powerless the breeze
To raise the billows. Ships against the wind
With bellying sails move onward. From the rock
Hangs motionless the torrent: rivers run
Uphill; the summer heat no longer swells
Nile in his course; Maeander's stream is straight;
Slow Rhone is quickened by the rush of Saone;
Hills dip their heads and topple to the plain;
Olympus sees his clouds drift overhead;
And sunless Scythia's sempiternal snows
Melt in mid-winter; the inflowing tides
Driven onward by the moon, at that dread chant
Ebb from their course; earth's axes, else unmoved,
Have trembled, and the force centripetal
Has tottered, and the earth's compacted frame
Struck by their voice has gaped, (34) till through the void
Men saw the moving sky. All beasts most fierce
And savage fear them, yet with deadly aid
Furnish the witches' arts. Tigers athirst
For blood, and noble lions on them fawn
With bland caresses: serpents at their word
Uncoil their circles, and extended glide
Along the surface of the frosty field;
The viper's severed body joins anew;
And dies the snake by human venom slain.
Whence comes this labour on the gods, compelled
To hearken to the magic chant and spells,
Nor daring to despise them? Doth some bond
Control the deities? Is their pleasure so,
Or must they listen? and have silent threats
Prevailed, or piety unseen received
So great a guerdon? Against all the gods
Is this their influence, or on one alone
Who to his will constrains the universe,
Himself constrained? Stars most in yonder clime
Shoot headlong from the zenith; and the moon
Gliding serene upon her nightly course
Is shorn of lustre by their poisonous chant,
Dimmed by dark earthly fires, as though our orb
Shadowed her brother's radiance and barred
The light bestowed by heaven; nor freshly shines
Until descending nearer to the earth
She sheds her baneful drops upon the mead.
These sinful rites and these her sister's songs
Abhorred Erichtho, fiercest of the race,
Spurned for their piety, and yet viler art
Practised in novel form. To her no home
Beneath a sheltering roof her direful head
Thus to lay down were crime: deserted tombs
Her dwelling-place, from which, darling of hell,
She dragged the dead. Nor life nor gods forbad
But that she knew the secret homes of Styx
And learned to hear the whispered voice of ghosts
At dread mysterious meetings. (35) Never sun
Shed his pure light upon that haggard cheek
Pale with the pallor of the shades, nor looked
Upon those locks unkempt that crowned her brow.
In starless nights of tempest crept the hag
Out from her tomb to seize the levin bolt;
Treading the harvest with accursed foot
She burned the fruitful growth, and with her breath
Poisoned the air else pure. No prayer she breathed
Nor supplication to the gods for help
Nor knew the pulse of entrails as do men
Who worship. Funeral pyres she loves to light
And snatch the incense from the flaming tomb.
The gods at her first utterance grant her prayer
For things unlawful, lest they hear again
Its fearful accents: men whose limbs were quick
With vital power she thrust within the grave
Despite the fates who owed them years to come:
The funeral reversed brought from the tomb
Those who were dead no longer; and the pyre
Yields to her shameless clutch still smoking dust
And bones enkindled, and the torch which held
Some grieving sire but now, with fragments mixed
In sable smoke and ceremental cloths
Singed with the redolent fire that burned the dead.
But those who lie within a stony cell
Untouched by fire, whose dried and mummied frames
No longer know corruption, limb by limb
Venting her rage she tears, the bloodless eyes
Drags from their cavities, and mauls the nail
Upon the withered hand: she gnaws the noose
By which some wretch has died, and from the tree
Drags down a pendent corpse, its members torn
Asunder to the winds: forth from the palms
Wrenches the iron, and from the unbending bond
Hangs by her teeth, and with her hands collects
The slimy gore which drips upon the limbs.
Where lay a corpse upon the naked earth
On ravening birds and beasts of prey the hag
Kept watch, nor marred by knife or hand her spoil,
Till on his victim seized some nightly wolf; (36)
Then dragged the morsel from his thirsty fangs;
Nor fears she murder, if her rites demand
Blood from the living, or some banquet fell
Requires the panting entrail. Pregnant wombs
Yield to her knife the infant to be placed
On flaming altars: and whene'er she needs
Some fierce undaunted ghost, he fails not her
Who has all deaths in use. Her hand has chased
From smiling cheeks the rosy bloom of life;
And with sinister hand from dying youth
Has shorn the fatal lock: and holding oft
In foul embraces some departed friend
Severed the head, and through the ghastly lips,
Held by her own apart, some impious tale
Dark with mysterious horror hath conveyed
Down to the Stygian shades.
When rumour brought
Her name to Sextus, in the depth of night,
While Titan's chariot beneath our earth
Wheeled on his middle course, he took his way
Through fields deserted; while a faithful band,
His wonted ministers in deeds of guilt,
Seeking the hag 'mid broken sepulchres,
Beheld her seated on the crags afar
Where Haemus falls towards Pharsalia's plain. (37)
There was she proving for her gods and priests
Words still unknown, and framing numbered chants
Of dire and novel purpose: for she feared
Lest Mars might stray into another world,
And spare Thessalian soil the blood ere long
To flow in torrents; and she thus forbade
Philippi's field, polluted with her song,
Thick with her poisonous distilments sown,
To let the war pass by. Such deaths, she hopes,
Soon shall be hers! the blood of all the world
Shed for her use! to her it shall be given
To sever from their trunks the heads of kings,
Plunder the ashes of the noble dead,
Italia's bravest, and in triumph add
The mightiest warriors to her host of shades.
And now what spoils from Magnus' tombless corse
Her hand may snatch, on which of Caesar's limbs
She soon may pounce, she makes her foul forecast
And eager gloats.
To whom the coward son
Of Magnus thus: "Thou greatest ornament
Of Haemon's daughters, in whose power it lies
Or to reveal the fates, or from its course
To turn the future, be it mine to know
By thy sure utterance to what final end
Fortune now guides the issue. Not the least
Of all the Roman host on yonder plain
Am I, but Magnus' most illustrious son,
Lord of the world or heir to death and doom.
The unknown affrights me: I can firmly face
The certain terror. Bid my destiny
Yield to thy power the dark and hidden end,
And let me fall foreknowing. From the gods
Extort the truth, or, if thou spare the gods,
Force it from hell itself. Fling back the gates
That bar th' Elysian fields; let Death confess
Whom from our ranks he seeks. No humble task
I bring, but worthy of Erichtho's skill
Of such a struggle fought for such a prize
To search and tell the issue."
Then the witch
Pleased that her impious fame was noised abroad
Thus made her answer: "If some lesser fates
Thy wish had been to change, against their wish
It had been easy to compel the gods
To its accomplishment. My art has power
When of one man the constellations press
The speedy death, to compass a delay;
And mine it is, though every star decrees
A ripe old age, by mystic herbs to shear
The life midway. But should some purpose set
From the beginning of the universe,
And all the labouring fortunes of mankind,
Be brought in question, then Thessalian art
Bows to the power supreme. But if thou be
Content to know the issue pre-ordained,
That shall be swiftly thine; for earth and air
And sea and space and Rhodopaean crags
Shall speak the future. Yet it easiest seems
Where death in these Thessalian fields abounds
To raise a single corpse. From dead men's lips
Scarce cold, in fuller accents falls the voice;
Not from some mummied flame in accents shrill
Uncertain to the ear."
Thus spake the hag
And through redoubled night, a squalid veil
Swathing her pallid features, stole among
Unburied carcases. Fast fled the wolves,
The carrion birds with maw unsatisfied
Relaxed their talons, as with creeping step
She sought her prophet. Firm must be the flesh
As yet, though cold in death, and firm the lungs
Untouched by wound. Now in the balance hung
The fates of slain unnumbered; had she striven
Armies to raise and order back to life
Whole ranks of warriors, the laws had failed
Of Erebus; and, summoned up from Styx,
Its ghostly tenants had obeyed her call,
And rising fought once more. At length the witch
Picks out her victim with pierced throat agape
Fit for her purpose. Gripped by pitiless hook
O'er rocks she drags him to the mountain cave
Accursed by her fell rites, that shall restore
The dead man's life.
Close to the hidden brink
The land that girds the precipice of hell
Sinks towards the depths: with ever falling leaves
A wood o'ershadows, and a spreading yew
Casts shade impenetrable. Foul decay
Fills all the space, and in the deep recess
Darkness unbroken, save by chanted spells,
Reigns ever. Not where gape the misty jaws
Of caverned Taenarus, the gloomy bound
Of either world, through which the nether kings
Permit the passage of the dead to earth,
So poisonous, mephitic, hangs the air.
Nay, though the witch had power to call the shades
Forth from the depths, 'twas doubtful if the cave
Were not a part of hell. Discordant hues
Flamed on her garb as by a fury worn;
Bare was her visage, and upon her brow
Dread vipers hissed, beneath her streaming locks
In sable coils entwined. But when she saw
The youth's companions trembling, and himself
With eyes cast down, with visage as of death,
Thus spake the witch: "Forbid your craven souls
These fears to cherish: soon returning life
This frame shall quicken, and in tones which reach
Even the timorous ear shall speak the man.
If I have power the Stygian lakes to show,
The bank that sounds with fire, the fury band,
And giants lettered, and the hound that shakes
Bristling with heads of snakes his triple head,
What fear is this that cringes at the sight
Of timid shivering shades?"
Then to her prayer.
First through his gaping bosom blood she pours
Still fervent, washing from his wounds the gore.
Then copious poisons from the moon distils
Mixed with all monstrous things which Nature's pangs
Bring to untimely birth; the froth from dogs
Stricken with madness, foaming at the stream;
A lynx's entrails: and the knot that grows
Upon the fell hyaena; flesh of stags
Fed upon serpents; and the sucking fish
Which holds the vessel back (38) though eastern winds
Make bend the canvas; dragon's eyes; and stones
That sound beneath the brooding eagle's wings.
Nor Araby's viper, nor the ocean snake
Who in the Red Sea waters guards the shell,
Are wanting; nor the slough on Libyan sands
By horned reptile cast; nor ashes fail
Snatched from an altar where the Phoenix died.
And viler poisons many, which herself
Has made, she adds, whereto no name is given:
Pestiferous leaves pregnant with magic chants
And blades of grass which in their primal growth
Her cursed mouth had slimed. Last came her voice
More potent than all herbs to charm the gods
Who rule in Lethe. Dissonant murmurs first
And sounds discordant from the tongues of men
She utters, scarce articulate: the bay
Of wolves, and barking as of dogs, were mixed
With that fell chant; the screech of nightly owl
Raising her hoarse complaint; the howl of beast
And sibilant hiss of snake -- all these were there;
And more -- the waft of waters on the rock,
The sound of forests and the thunder peal.
Such was her voice; but soon in clearer tones
Reaching to Tartarus, she raised her song:
"Ye awful goddesses, avenging power
Of Hell upon the damned, and Chaos huge
Who striv'st to mix innumerable worlds,
And Pluto, king of earth, whose weary soul
Grieves at his godhead; Styx; and plains of bliss
We may not enter: and thou, Proserpine,
Hating thy mother and the skies above,
My patron goddess, last and lowest form (39)
Of Hecate through whom the shades and I
Hold silent converse; warder of the gate
Who castest human offal to the dog:
Ye sisters who shall spin the threads again; (40)
And thou, O boatman of the burning wave,
Now wearied of the shades from hell to me
Returning, hear me if with voice I cry
Abhorred, polluted; if the flesh of man
Hath ne'er been absent from my proffered song,
Flesh washed with brains still quivering; if the child
Whose severed head I placed upon the dish
But for this hand had lived -- a listening ear
Lend to my supplication! From the caves
Hid in the innermost recess of hell
I claim no soul long banished from the light.
For one but now departed, lingering still
Upon the brink of Orcus, is my prayer.
Grant (for ye may) that listening to the spell
Once more he seek his dust; and let the shade
Of this our soldier perished (if the war
Well at your hands has merited), proclaim