Marcus Annaeus Lucanus

(39 - 65 / Italy)

Pharsalia - Book II: The Flight Of Pompeius


This was made plain the anger of the gods;
The universe gave signs Nature reversed
In monstrous tumult fraught with prodigies
Her laws, and prescient spake the coming guilt.

How seemed it just to thee, Olympus' king,
That suffering mortals at thy doom should know
By omens dire the massacre to come?
Or did the primal parent of the world
When first the flames gave way and yielding left
Matter unformed to his subduing hand,
And realms unbalanced, fix by stern decree'
Unalterable laws to bind the whole
(Himself, too, bound by law), so that for aye
All Nature moves within its fated bounds?
Or, is Chance sovereign over all, and we
The sport of Fortune and her turning wheel?
Whate'er be truth, keep thou the future veiled
From mortal vision, and amid their fears
May men still hope.

Thus known how great the woes
The world should suffer, from the truth divine,
A solemn fast was called, the courts were closed,
All men in private garb; no purple hem
Adorned the togas of the chiefs of Rome;
No plaints were uttered, and a voiceless grief
Lay deep in every bosom: as when death
Knocks at some door but enters not as yet,
Before the mother calls the name aloud
Or bids her grieving maidens beat the breast,
While still she marks the glazing eye, and soothes
The stiffening limbs and gazes on the face,
In nameless dread, not sorrow, and in awe
Of death approaching: and with mind distraught
Clings to the dying in a last embrace.

The matrons laid aside their wonted garb:
Crowds filled the temples -- on the unpitying stones
Some dashed their bosoms; others bathed with tears
The statues of the gods; some tore their hair
Upon the holy threshold, and with shrieks
And vows unceasing called upon the names
Of those whom mortals supplicate. Nor all
Lay in the Thunderer's fane: at every shrine
Some prayers are offered which refused shall bring
Reproach on heaven. One whose livid arms
Were dark with blows, whose cheeks with tears bedewed
And riven, cried, 'Beat, mothers, beat the breast,
Tear now the lock; while doubtful in the scales
Still fortune hangs, nor yet the fight is won,
You still may grieve: when either wins rejoice.'
Thus sorrow stirs itself.

Meanwhile the men
Seeking the camp and setting forth to war,
Address the cruel gods in just complaint.
'Happy the youths who born in Punic days
On Cannae's uplands or by Trebia's stream
Fought and were slain! What wretched lot is ours!
No peace we ask for: let the nations rage;
Rouse fiercest cities! may the world find arms
To wage a war with Rome: let Parthian hosts
Rush forth from Susa; Scythian Ister curb
No more the Massagete: unconquered Rhine
Let loose from furthest North her fair-haired tribes:
Elbe, pour thy Suevians forth! Let us be foes
Of all the peoples. May the Getan press
Here, and the Dacian there; Pompeius meet
The Eastern archers, Caesar in the West
Confront th' Iberian. Leave to Rome no hand
To raise against herself in civil strife.
Or, if Italia by the gods be doomed,
Let all the sky, fierce Parent, be dissolved
And falling on the earth in flaming bolts,
Their hands still bloodless, strike both leaders down,
With both their hosts! Why plunge in novel crime
To settle which of them shall rule in Rome?
Scarce were it worth the price of civil war
To hinder either.' Thus the patriot voice
Still found an utterance, soon to speak no more.

Meantime, the aged fathers o'er their fates
In anguish grieved, detesting life prolonged
That brought with it another civil war.
And thus spake one, to justify his fears:
'No other deeds the fates laid up in store
When Marius, victor over Teuton hosts,
Afric's high conqueror, cast out from Rome,
Lay hid in marshy ooze, at thy behest,
O Fortune! by the yielding soil concealed
And waving rushes; but ere long the chains
Of prison wore his weak and aged frame,
And lengthened squalor: thus he paid for crime
His punishment beforehand; doomed to die
Consul in triumph over wasted Rome.
Death oft refused him; and the very foe,
In act to murder, shuddered in the stroke
And dropped the weapon from his nerveless hand.
For through the prison gloom a flame of light
He saw; the deities of crime abhorred;
The Marius to come. A voice proclaimed
Mysterious, `Hold! the fates permit thee not
That neck to sever. Many a death he owes
To time's predestined laws ere his shall come;
Cease from thy madness. If ye seek revenge
For all the blood shed by your slaughtered tribes to
Let this man, Cimbrians, live out all his days.'
Not as their darling did the gods protect
The man of blood, but for his ruthless hand
Fit to prepare that sacrifice of gore
Which fate demanded. By the sea's despite
Borne to our foes, Jugurtha's wasted realm
He saw, now conquered; there in squalid huts
Awhile he lay, and trod the hostile dust
Of Carthage, and his ruin matched with hers:
Each from the other's fate some solace drew,
And prostrate, pardoned heaven. On Libyan soil
Fresh fury gathering, next, when Fortune smiled
The prisons he threw wide and freed the slaves.
Forth rushed the murderous bands, their melted chains
Forged into weapons for his ruffian needs.
No charge he gave to mere recruits in guilt
Who brought not to the camp some proof of crime.
How dread that day when conquering Marius seized
The city's ramparts! with what fated speed
Death strode upon his victims! plebs alike
And nobles perished; far and near the sword
Struck at his pleasure, till the temple floors
Ran wet with slaughter and the crimson stream
Befouled with slippery gore the holy walls.
No age found pity men of failing years,
Just tottering to the grave, were hurled to death;
From infants, in their being's earliest dawn,
The growing life was severed. For what crime?
Twas cause enough for death that they could die.
The fury grew: soon 'twas a sluggard's part
To seek the guilty: hundreds died to swell
The tale of victims. Shamed by empty hands,
The bloodstained conqueror snatched a reeking head
From neck unknown. One way of life remained,
To kiss with shuddering lips the red right hand.
Degenerate people! Had ye hearts of men,
Though ye were threatened by a thousand swords,
Far rather death than centuries of life
Bought at such price; much more that breathing space
Till Sulla comes again. But time would fail
In weeping for the deaths of all who fell.
Encircled by innumerable bands
Fell Baebius, his limbs asunder torn,
His vitals dragged abroad. Antonius too,
Prophet of ill, whose hoary head was placed,
Dripping with blood, upon the festal board.
There headless fell the Crassi; mangled frames
'Neath Fimbria's falchion: and the prison cells
Were wet with tribunes' blood. Hard by the fane
Where dwells the goddess and the sacred fire,
Fell aged Scaevola, though that gory hand
Had spared him, but the feeble tide of blood
Still left the flame alive upon the hearth.
That selfsame year the seventh time restored
The Consul's rods; that year to Marius brought
The end of life, when he at Fortune's hands
All ills had suffered; all her goods enjoyed.

'And what of those who at the Sacriport
And Colline gate were slain, then, when the rule
Of Earth and all her nations almost left
This city for another, and the chiefs
Who led the Samnite hoped that Rome might bleed
More than at Caudium's Forks she bled of old?
Then came great Sulla to avenge the dead,
And all the blood still left within her frame
Drew from the city; for the surgeon knife
Which shore the cancerous limbs cut in too deep,
And shed the life stream from still healthy veins.
True that the guilty fell, but not before
All else had perished. Hatred had free course
And anger reigned unbridled by the law.
The victor's voice spake once; but each man struck
Just as he wished or willed. The fatal steel
Urged by the servant laid the master low.
Sons dripped with gore of sires; and brothers fought
For the foul trophy of a father slain,
Or slew each other for the price of blood.
Men sought the tombs and, mingling with the dead,
Hoped for escape; the wild beasts' dens were full.
One strangled died; another from the height
Fell headlong down upon the unpitying earth,
And from the encrimsoned victor snatched his death:
One built his funeral pyre and oped his veins,
And sealed the furnace ere his blood was gone.
Borne through the trembling town the leaders' heads
Were piled in middle forum: hence men knew
Of murders else unpublished. Not on gates
Of Diomedes, tyrant king of Thrace,
Nor of Antaeus, Libya's giant brood,
Were hung such horrors; nor in Pisa's hall
Were seen and wept for when the suitors died.
Decay had touched the features of the slain
When round the mouldering heap, with trembling steps
The grief-struck parents sought and stole their dead.
I, too, the body of my brother slain
Thought to remove, my victim to the peace
Which Sulla made, and place his loved remains
On the forbidden pyre. The head I found,
But not the butchered corse.

'Why now renew
The tale of Catulus's shade appeased?
And those dread tortures which the living frame
Of Marius suffered at the tomb of him
Who haply wished them not? Pierced, mangled, torn --
Nor speech nor grasp was left: his every limb
Maimed, hacked and riven; yet the fatal blow
The murderers with savage purpose spared.
'Twere scarce believed that one poor mortal frame
Such agonies could bear e'er death should come.
Thus crushed beneath some ruin lie the dead;
Thus shapeless from the deep are borne the drowned.
Why spoil delight by mutilating thus,
The head of Marius? To please Sulla's heart
That mangled visage must be known to all.
Fortune, high goddess of Praeneste's fane,
Saw all her townsmen hurried to their deaths
In one fell instant. All the hope of Rome,
The flower of Latium, stained with blood the field
Where once the peaceful tribes their votes declared.
Famine and Sword, the raging sky and sea,
And Earth upheaved, have laid such numbers low:
But ne'er one man's revenge. Between the slain
And living victims there was space no more,
Death thus let slip, to deal the fatal blow.
Hardly when struck they fell; the severed head
Scarce toppled from the shoulders; but the slain
Blent in a weighty pile of massacre
Pressed out the life and helped the murderer's arm.
Secure from stain upon his lofty throne,
Unshuddering sat the author of the whole,
Nor feared that at his word such thousands fell.
At length the Tuscan flood received the dead
The first upon his waves; the last on those
That lay beneath them; vessels in their course
Were stayed, and while the lower current flowed
Still to the sea, the upper stood on high
Dammed back by carnage. Through the streets meanwhile
In headlong torrents ran a tide of blood,
Which furrowing its path through town and field
Forced the slow river on. But now his banks
No longer held him, and the dead were thrown
Back on the fields above. With labour huge
At length he struggled to his goal and stretched
In crimson streak across the Tuscan Sea.

'For deeds like these, shall Sulla now be styled
`Darling of Fortune', `Saviour of the State'?
For these, a tomb in middle field of Mars
Record his fame? Like horrors now return
For us to suffer; and the civil war
Thus shall be waged again and thus shall end.
Yet worse disasters may our fears suggest,
For now with greater carnage of mankind
The rival hosts in weightier battle meet.
To exiled Marius, successful strife
Was Rome regained; triumphant Sulla knew
No greater joy than on his hated foes
To wreak his vengeance with unsparing sword.
But these more powerful rivals Fortune calls
To worse ambitions; nor would either chief
For such reward as Sulla's wage the war.'
Thus, mindful of his youth, the aged man
Wept for the past, but feared the coming days.

Such terrors found in haughty Brutus' breast
No home. When others sat them down to fear
He did not so, but in the dewy night
When the great wain was turning round the pole
He sought his kinsman Cato's humble home.
Him sleepless did he find, not for himself
Fearing, but pondering the fates of Rome,
And deep in public cares. And thus he spake:
'O thou in whom that virtue, which of yore
Took flight from earth, now finds its only home,
Outcast to all besides, but safe with thee:
Vouchsafe thy counsel to my wavering soul
And make my weakness strength. While Caesar some,
Pompeius others, follow in the fight,
Cato is Brutus' guide. Art thou for peace,
Holding thy footsteps in a tottering world
Unshaken? Or wilt thou with the leaders' crimes
And with the people's fury take thy part,
And by thy presence purge the war of guilt?
In impious battles men unsheath the sword;
But each by cause impelled: the household crime;
Laws feared in peace; want by the sword removed;
And broken credit, that its ruin hides
In general ruin. Drawn by hope of gain,
And not by thirst for blood, they seek the camp.
Shall Cato for war's sake make war alone?
What profits it through all these wicked years
That thou hast lived untainted? This were all
Thy meed of virtue, that the wars which find
Guilt in all else, shall make thee guilty too.
Ye gods, permit not that this fatal strife
Should stir those hands to action! When the clouds
Of flying javelins hiss upon the air,
Let not a dart be thine; nor spent in vain
Such virtue! All the fury of the war
Shall launch itself on thee, for who, when faint
And wounded, would not rush upon thy sword,
Take thence his death, and make the murder thine?
Do thou live on thy peaceful life apart
As on their paths the stars unshaken roll.
The lower air that verges on the earth
Gives flame and fury to the levin bolt;
The deeps below the world engulph the winds
And tracts of flaming fire. By Jove's decree
Olympus rears his summit o'er the clouds:
In lowlier valleys storms and winds contend,
But peace eternal reigns upon the heights.
What joy for Caesar, if the tidings come
That such a citizen has joined the war?
Glad would he see thee e'en in Magnus' tents;
For Cato's conduct shall approve his own.
Pompeius, with the Consul in his ranks,
And half the Senate and the other chiefs,
Vexes my spirit; and should Cato too
Bend to a master's yoke, in all the world
The one man free is Caesar. But if thou
For freedom and thy country's laws alone
Be pleased to raise the sword, nor Magnus then
Nor Caesar shall in Brutus find a foe.
Not till the fight is fought shall Brutus strike,
Then strike the victor.'

Brutus thus; but spake
Cato from inmost breast these sacred words:
'Chief in all wickedness is civil war,
Yet virtue in the paths marked out by fate
Treads on securely. Heaven's will be the crime
To have made even Cato guilty. Who has strength
To gaze unawed upon a toppling world?
When stars and sky fall headlong, and when earth
Slips from her base, who sits with folded hands?
Shall unknown nations, touched by western strife,
And monarchs born beneath another clime
Brave the dividing seas to join the war?
Shall Scythian tribes desert their distant north,
And Getae haste to view the fall of Rome,
And I look idly on? As some fond sire,
Reft of his sons, compelled by grief, himself
Marshals the long procession to the tomb,
Thrusts his own hand within the funeral flames,
Soothing his heart, and, as the lofty pyre
Rises on high, applies the kindled torch:
Nought, Rome, shall tear thee from me, till I hold
Thy form in death embraced; and Freedom's name,
Shade though it be, I'll follow to the grave.
Yea! let the cruel gods exact in full
Rome's expiation: of no drop of blood
The war be robbed. I would that, to the gods
Of heaven and hell devoted, this my life
Might satisfy their vengeance. Decius fell,
Crushed by the hostile ranks. When Cato falls
Let Rhine's fierce barbarous hordes and both the hosts
Thrust through my frame their darts! May I alone
Receive in death the wounds of all the war!
Thus may the people be redeemed, and thus
Rome for her guilt pay the atonement due.
Why should men die who wish to bear the yoke
And shrink not from the tyranny to come?
Strike me, and me alone, of laws and rights
In vain the guardian: this vicarious life
Shall give Hesperia peace and end her toils.
Who then will reign shall find no need for war.
You ask, `Why follow Magnus? If he wins
He too will claim the Empire of the world.'
Then let him, conquering with my service, learn
Not for himself to conquer.' Thus he spoke
And stirred the blood that ran in Brutus' veins
Moving the youth to action in the war.

Soon as the sun dispelled the chilly night,
The sounding doors flew wide, and from the tomb
Of dead Hortensius grieving Marcia came.
First joined in wedlock to a greater man
Three children did she bear to grace his home:
Then Cato to Hortensius gave the dame
To be a fruitful mother of his sons
And join their houses in a closer tie.
And now the last sad offices were done
She came with hair dishevelled, beaten breast,
And ashes on her brow, and features worn
With grief; thus only pleasing to the man.
'When youth was in me and maternal power
I did thy bidding, Cato, and received
A second husband: now in years grown old
Ne'er to be parted I return to thee.
Renew our former pledges undefiled:
Give back the name of wife: upon my tomb
Let `Marcia, spouse to Cato,' be engraved.
Nor let men question in the time to come,
Did'st thou compel, or did I willing leave
My first espousals. Not in happy times,
Partner of joys, I come; but days of care
And labour shall be mine to share with thee.
Nor leave me here, but take me to the camp,
Thy fond companion: why should Magnus' wife
Be nearer, Cato, to the wars than thine?'

Although the times were warlike and the fates
Called to the fray, he lent a willing ear.
Yet must they plight their faith in simple form
Of law; their witnesses the gods alone.
No festal wreath of flowers crowned the gate
Nor glittering fillet on each post entwined;
No flaming torch was there, nor ivory steps,
No couch with robes of broidered gold adorned;
No comely matron placed upon her brow
The bridal garland, or forbad the foot
To touch the threshold stone; no saffron veil
Concealed the timid blushes of the bride;
No jewelled belt confined her flowing robe
Nor modest circle bound her neck; no scarf
Hung lightly on the snowy shoulder's edge
Around the naked arm. Just as she came,
Wearing the garb of sorrow, while the wool
Covered the purple border of her robe,
Thus was she wedded. As she greets her sons
So doth she greet her husband. Festal games
Graced not their nuptials, nor were friends and kin
As by the Sabines bidden: silent both
They joined in marriage, yet content, unseen
By any save by Brutus. Sad and stern
On Cato's lineaments the marks of grief
Were still unsoftened, and the hoary hair
Hung o'er his reverend visage; for since first
Men flew to arms, his locks were left unkempt
To stream upon his brow, and on his chin
His beard untended grew. 'Twas his alone
Who hated not, nor loved, for all mankind
To mourn alike. Nor did their former couch
Again receive them, for his lofty soul
E'en lawful love resisted. 'Twas his rule
Inflexible, to keep the middle path
Marked out and bounded; to observe the laws
Of natural right; and for his country's sake
To risk his life, his all, as not for self
Brought into being, but for all the world:
Such was his creed. To him a sumptuous feast
Was hunger conquered, and the lowly hut,
Which scarce kept out the winter, was a home
Equal to palaces: a robe of price
Such hairy garments as were worn of old:
The end of marriage, offspring. To the State
Father alike and husband, right and law
He ever followed with unswerving step:
No thought of selfish pleasure turned the scale
In Cato's acts, or swayed his upright soul.

Meanwhile Pompeius led his trembling host
To fields Campanian, and held the walls
First founded by the chief of Trojan race.
These chose he for the central seat of war,
Some troops despatching who might meet the foe
Where shady Apennine lifts up the ridge
Of mid Italia; nearest to the sky
Upsoaring, with the seas on either hand,
The upper and the lower. Pisa's sands
Breaking the margin of the Tuscan deep,
Here bound his mountains: there Ancona's towers
Laved by Dalmatian waves. Rivers immense,
In his recesses born, pass on their course,
To either sea diverging. To the left
Metaurus, and Crustumium's torrent, fall
And Sena's streams and Aufidus who bursts
On Adrian billows; and that mighty flood
Which, more than all the rivers of the earth,
Sweeps down the soil and tears the woods away
And drains Hesperia's springs. In fabled lore
His banks were first by poplar shade enclosed:
And when by Phaethon the waning day
Was drawn in path transverse, and all the heaven
Blazed with his car aflame, and from the depths
Of inmost earth were rapt all other floods,
Padus still rolled in pride of stream along.
Nile were no larger, but that o'er the sand
Of level Egypt he spreads out his waves;
Nor Ister, if he sought the Scythian main
Unhelped upon his journey through the world
By tributary waters not his own.
But on the right hand Tiber has his source,
Deep-flowing Rutuba, Vulturnus swift,
And Sarnus breathing vapours of the night
Rise there, and Liris with Vestinian wave
Still gliding through Marica's shady grove,
And Siler flowing through Salernian meads:
And Macra's swift unnavigable stream
By Luna lost in Ocean. On the Alps
Whose spurs strike plainwards, and on fields of Gaul
The cloudy heights of Apennine look down
In further distance: on his nearer slopes
The Sabine turns the ploughshare; Umbrian kine
And Marsian fatten; with his pineclad rocks
He girds the tribes of Latium, nor leaves
Hesperia's soil until the waves that beat
On Scylla's cave compel. His southern spurs
Extend to Juno's temple, and of old
Stretched further than Italia, till the main
O'erstepped his limits and the lands repelled.
But, when the seas were joined, Pelorus claimed
His latest summits for Sicilia's isle.

Caesar, in rage for war, rejoicing found
Foes in Italia; no bloodless steps
Nor vacant homes had pleased him; so his march
Were wasted: now the coming war was joined
Unbroken to the past; to force the gates
Not find them open, fire and sword to bring
Upon the harvests, not through fields unharmed
To pass his legions -- this was Caesar's joy;
In peaceful guise to march, this was his shame.
Italia's cities, doubtful in their choice,
Though to the earliest onset of the war
About to yield, strengthened their walls with mounds
And deepest trench encircling: massive stones
And bolts of war to hurl upon the foe
They place upon the turrets. Magnus most
The people's favour held, yet faith with fear
Fought in their breasts. As when, with strident blast,
A southern tempest has possessed the main
And all the billows follow in its track:
Then, by the Storm-king smitten, should the earth
Set Eurus free upon the swollen deep,
It shall not yield to him, though cloud and sky
Confess his strength; but in the former wind
Still find its master. But their fears prevailed,
And Caesar's fortune, o'er their wavering faith.
For Libo fled Etruria; Umbria lost
Her freedom, driving Thermus from her bounds;
Great Sulla's son, unworthy of his sire,
Feared at the name of Caesar: Varus sought
The caves and woods, when smote the hostile horse
The gates of Auximon; and Spinther driven
From Asculum, the victor on his track,
Fled with his standards, soldierless; and thou,
Scipio, did'st leave Nuceria's citadel
Deserted, though by bravest legions held
Sent home by Caesar for the Parthian war;
Whom Magnus earlier, to his kinsman gave
A loan of Roman blood, to fight the Gaul.

But brave Domitius held firm his post
Behind Corfinium's ramparts; his the troops
Who newly levied kept the judgment hall
At Milo's trial. When from far the plain
Rolled up a dusty cloud, beneath whose veil
The sheen of armour glistening in the sun,
Revealed a marching host. 'Dash down,' he cried,
Swift; as ye can, the bridge that spans the stream;
And thou, O river, from thy mountain source
With all thy torrents rushing, planks and beams
Ruined and broken on thy foaming breast
Bear onward to the sea. The war shall stop
Here, to our triumph; for this headlong chief
Here first at our firm bidding shall be stayed.'
He bade his squadrons, speeding from the walls,
Charge on the bridge: in vain: for Caesar saw
They sought to free the river from his chains
And bar his march; and roused to ire, he cried:
'Were not the walls sufficient to protect
Your coward souls? Seek ye by barricades
And streams to keep me back? What though the flood
Of swollen Ganges were across my path?
Now Rubicon is passed, no stream on earth
Shall hinder Caesar! Forward, horse and foot,
And ere it totters rush upon the bridge.'
Urged in their swiftest gallop to the front
Dashed the light horse across the sounding plain;
And suddenly, as storm in summer, flew
A cloud of javelins forth, by sinewy arms
Hurled at the foe; the guard is put to flight,
And conquering Caesar, seizing on the bridge,
Compels the enemy to keep the walls.
Now do the mighty engines, soon to hurl
Gigantic stones, press forward, and the ram
Creeps 'neath the ramparts; when the gates fly back,
And lo! the traitor troops, foul crime in war,
Yield up their leader. Him they place before

His proud compatriot; yet with upright form,
And scornful features and with noble mien,
He asks his death. But Caesar knew his wish
Was punishment, and pardon was his fear:
'Live though thou would'st not,' so the chieftain spake,
'And by my gift, unwilling, see the day:
Be to my conquered foes the cause of hope,
Proof of my clemency -- or if thou wilt
Take arms again -- and should'st thou conquer, count
This pardon nothing.' Thus he spake, and bade
Let loose the bands and set the captive free.
Ah! better had he died, and fortune spared
The Roman's last dishonour, whose worse doom
It is, that he who joined his country's camp
And fought with Magnus for the Senate's cause
Should gain for this -- a pardon! Yet he curbed
His anger, thinking, 'Wilt thou then to Rome
And peaceful scenes, degenerate? Rather war,
The furious battle and the certain end!
Break with life's ties: be Caesar's gift in vain.'

Pompeius, ignorant that his captain thus
Was taken, armed his levies newly raised
To give his legions strength; and as he thought
To sound his trumpets with the coming dawn,
To test his soldiers ere he moved his camp
Thus in majestic tones their ranks addressed:
'Soldiers of Rome! Avengers of her laws!
To whom the Senate gives no private arms,
Ask by your voices for the battle sign.
Fierce falls the pillage on Hesperian fields,
And Gallia's fury o'er the snowy Alps
Is poured upon us. Caesar's swords at last
Are red with Roman blood. But with the wound
We gain the better cause; the crime is theirs.
No war is this, but for offended Rome
We wreak the vengeance; as when Catiline
Lifted against her roofs the flaming brand
And, partner in his fury, Lentulus,
And mad Cethegus with his naked arm.
Is such thy madness, Caesar? when the Fates
With great Camillus' and Metellus' names
Might place thine own, dost thou prefer to rank
With Marius and Cinna? Swift shall be
Thy fall: as Lepidus before the sword
Of Catulus; or who my axes felt,
Carbo, now buried in Sicanian tomb;
Or who, in exile, roused Iberia's hordes,
Sertorius -- yet, witness Heaven, with these
I hate to rank thee; hate the task that Rome
Has laid upon me, to oppose thy rage.
Would that in safety from the Parthian war
And Scythian steppes had conquering Crassus come!
Then haply had'st thou fallen by the hand
That smote vile Spartacus the robber foe.
But if among my triumphs fate has said
Thy conquest shall be written, know this heart
Still sends the life blood coursing: and this arm
Still vigorously flings the dart afield.
He deems me slothful. Caesar, thou shalt learn
We brook not peace because we lag in war.
Old, does he call me? Fear not ye mine age.
Let me be elder, if his soldiers are.
The highest point a citizen can reach
And leave his people free, is mine: a throne
Alone were higher; whoso would surpass
Pompeius, aims at that. Both Consuls stand
Here; here for battle stand your lawful chiefs:
And shall this Caesar drag the Senate down?
Not with such blindness, not so lost to shame
Does Fortune rule. Does he take heart from Gaul:
For years on years rebellious, and a life
Spent there in labour? or because he fled
Rhine's icy torrent and the shifting pools
He calls an ocean? or unchallenged sought
Britannia's cliffs; then turned his back in flight?
Or does he boast because his citizens
Were driven in arms to leave their hearths and homes?
Ah, vain delusion! not from thee they fled:
My steps they follow -- mine, whose conquering signs
Swept all the ocean, and who, ere the moon
Twice filled her orb and waned, compelled to flight
The pirate, shrinking from the open sea,
And humbly begging for a narrow home
In some poor nook on shore. 'Twas I again
Who, happier far than Sulla, drave to death
That king who, exiled to the deep recess
Of Scythian Pontus, held the fates of Rome
Still in the balances. Where is the land
That hath not seen my trophies? Icy waves
Of northern Phasis, hot Egyptian shores,
And where Syene 'neath its noontide sun
Knows shade on neither hand: all these have learned
To fear Pompeius: and far Baetis' stream,
Last of all floods to join the refluent sea.
Arabia and the warlike hordes that dwell
Beside the Euxine wave: the famous land
That lost the golden fleece; Cilician wastes,
And Cappadocian, and the Jews who pray
Before an unknown God; Sophene soft --
All felt my yoke. What conquests now remain,
What wars not civil can my kinsman wage?'

No loud acclaim received his words, nor shout
Asked for the promised battle: and the chief
Drew back the standards, for the soldier's fears
Were in his soul alike; nor dared he trust
An army, vanquished by the fame alone
Of Caesar's powers, to fight for such a prize.
And as some bull, his early combat lost,
Forth driven from the herd, in exile roams
Through lonely plains or secret forest depths,
Whets on opposing trunks his growing horn,
And proves himself for battle, till his neck
Is ribbed afresh with muscle: then returns,
Defiant of the hind, and victor now
Leads wheresoe'er he will his lowing bands:
Thus Magnus, yielding to a stronger foe,
Gave up Italia, and sought in flight
Brundusium's sheltering battlements.

Here of old
Fled Cretan settlers when the dusky sail
Spread the false message of the hero dead;
Here, where Hesperia, curving as a bow,
Draws back her coast, a little tongue of land
Shuts in with bending horns the sounding main.
Yet insecure the spot, unsafe in storm,
Were it not sheltered by an isle on which
The Adriatic billows dash and fall,
And tempests lose their strength: on either hand
A craggy cliff opposing breaks the gale
That beats upon them, while the ships within
Held by their trembling cables ride secure.
Hence to the mariner the boundless deep
Lies open, whether for Corcyra's port
He shapes his sails, or for Illyria's shore,
And Epidamnus facing to the main
Ionian. Here, when raging in his might
Fierce Adria whelms in foam Calabria's coast,
When clouds tempestuous veil Ceraunus' height,
The sailor finds a haven.

When the chief
Could find no hope in battle on the soil
He now was quitting, and the lofty Alps
Forbad Iberia, to his son he spake,
The eldest scion of that noble stock:
'Search out the far recesses of the earth,
Nile and Euphrates, wheresoe'er the fame
Of Magnus lives, where, through thy father's deeds,
The people tremble at the name of Rome.
Lead to the sea again the pirate bands;
Rouse Egypt's kings; Tigranes, wholly mine,
And Pharnaces and all the vagrant tribes
Of both Armenias; and the Pontic hordes,
Warlike and fierce; the dwellers on the hills
Rhipaean, and by that dead northern marsh
Whose frozen surface bears the loaded wain.
Why further stay thee? Let the eastern world
Sound with the war, all cities of the earth
Conquered by me, as vassals, to my camp
Send all their levied hosts. And you whose names
Within the Latian book recorded stand,
Strike for Epirus with the northern wind;
And thence in Greece and Macedonian tracts,
(While winter gives us peace) new strength acquire
For coming conflicts.' They obey his words
And loose their ships and launch upon the main.

But Caesar's might, intolerant of peace
Or lengthy armistice, lest now perchance
The fates might change their edicts, swift pursued
The footsteps of his foe. To other men,
So many cities taken at a blow,
So many strongholds captured, might suffice;
And Rome herself, the mistress of the world,
Lay at his feet, the greatest prize of all.
Not so with Caesar: instant on the goal
He fiercely presses; thinking nothing done
While aught remained to do. Now in his grasp
Lay all Italia; -- but while Magnus stayed
Upon the utmost shore, his grieving soul
Deemed all was shared with him. Yet he essayed
Escape to hinder, and with labour vain
Piled in the greedy main gigantic rocks:
Mountains of earth down to the sandy depths
Were swallowed by the vortex of the sea;
Just as if Eryx and its lofty top
Were cast into the deep, yet not a speck
Should mark the watery plain; or Gaurus huge
Split from his summit to his base, were plunged
In fathomless Avernus' stagnant pool.
The billows thus unstemmed, 'twas Caesar's will
To hew the stately forests and with trees
Enchained to form a rampart. Thus of old
(If fame be true) the boastful Persian king
Prepared a way across the rapid strait
'Twixt Sestos and Abydos, and made one
The European and the Trojan shores;
And marched upon the waters, wind and storm
Counting as nought, but trusting his emprise
To one frail bridge, so that his ships might pass
Through middle Athos. Thus a mighty mole
Of fallen forests grew upon the waves,
Free until then, and lofty turrets rose,
And land usurped the entrance to the main.

This when Pompeius saw, with anxious care
His soul was filled; yet hoping to regain
The exit lost, and win a wider world
Wherein to wage the war, on chosen ships
He hoists the sails; these, driven by the wind
And drawn by cables fastened to their prows,
Scattered the beams asunder; and at night
Not seldom engines, worked by stalwart arms,
Flung flaming torches forth. But when the time
For secret flight was come, no sailor shout
Rang on the shore, no trumpet marked the hour,
No bugle called the armament to sea.
Already shone the Virgin in the sky
Leading the Scorpion in her course, whose claws
Foretell the rising Sun, when noiseless all
They cast the vessels loose; no song was heard
To greet the anchor wrenched from stubborn sand;
No captain's order, when the lofty mast
Was raised, or yards were bent; a silent crew
Drew down the sails which hung upon the ropes,
Nor shook the mighty cables, lest the wind
Should sound upon them. But the chief, in prayer,
Thus spake to Fortune: 'Thou whose high decree
Has made us exiles from Italia's shores,
Grant us at least to leave them.' Yet the fates
Hardly permitted, for a murmur vast
Came from the ocean, as the countless keels
Furrowed the waters, and with ceaseless splash
The parted billows rose again and fell.
Then were the gates thrown wide; for with the fates
The city turned to Caesar: and the foe,
Seizing the town, rushed onward by the pier
That circled in the harbour; then they knew
With shame and sorrow that the fleet was gone
And held the open: and Pompeius' flight
Gave a poor triumph.

Yet was narrower far
The channel which gave access to the sea
Than that Euboean strait whose waters lave
The shore by Chalcis. Here two ships stuck fast
Alone, of all the fleet; the fatal hook
Grappled their decks and drew them to the land,
And the first bloodshed of the civil war
Here left a blush upon the ocean wave.
As when the famous ship sought Phasis' stream
The rocky gates closed in and hardly gripped
Her flying stern; then from the empty sea
The cliffs rebounding to their ancient seat
Were fixed to move no more. But now the steps
Of morn approaching tinged the eastern sky
With roseate hues: the Pleiades were dim,
The wagon of the Charioteer grew pale,
The planets faded, and the silvery star
Which ushers in the day, was lost in light.

Then Magnus, hold'st the deep; yet not the same
Now are thy fates, as when from every sea
Thy fleet triumphant swept the pirate pest.
Tired of thy conquests, Fortune now no more
Shall smile upon thee. With thy spouse and sons,
Thy household gods, and peoples in thy train,
Still great in exile, in a distant land
Thou seek'st thy fated fall; not that the gods,
Wishing to rob thee of a Roman grave,
Decreed the strands of Egypt for thy tomb:
'Twas Italy they spared, that far away
Fortune on shores remote might hide her crime,
And Roman soil be pure of Magnus' blood.

Submitted: Wednesday, April 21, 2010

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