previous next

Such were the hidden motives of the chiefs;
But in the public life the seeds of war
Their hold had taken, such as are the doom
Of potent nations: and when fortune poured
Through Roman gates the booty of a world,
The curse of luxury, chief bane of states,
Fell on her sons. Farewell the ancient ways!
Behold the pomp profuse, the houses decked
With ornament; their hunger loathed the food
Of former days; men wore attire for dames
Scarce fitly fashioned; poverty was scorned,
Fruitful of warriors; and from all the world
Came that which ruins nations; while the fields
Furrowed of yore by great Camillus' plough,
Or by the mattock which a Curius held,
Lost their once narrow bounds, and widening tracts
By hinds unknown were tilled. No nation this
To sheathe the sword, with tranquil peace content
And with her liberties; but prone to ire;
Crime holding light as though by want compelled:
Great was the glory in the minds of men,
Ambition lawful even at point of sword,
To rise above their country: might their law:
Decrees were forced from Senate and from Plebs:
Consul and Tribune broke the laws alike:
Bought were the fasces, and the people sold
For gain their favour: bribery's fatal curse
Stained every yearly contest of the Field.
Then covetous usury rose, and interest
Was greedier with the seasons; and all trust
Was crushed; and many found a boon in war.
Caesar has crossed the Alps, his mighty soul
Great tumults pondering and the coming shock.
Now on the marge of Rubicon, he saw,
In face most sorrowful and ghostly guise,
His trembling country's image; huge it seemed
Through mists of night obscure; and hoary hair
Streamed from the lofty front with turrets crowned:
Torn were her locks and naked were her arms.
Then thus, with broken sighs the Vision spake:
What seek ye, men of Rome? and whither hence
Bear ye my standards? If by right ye come,
My citizens, stay here; these are the bounds;
No further dare.' But Caesar's hair was stiff
With horror as he gazed, and ghastly dread
Restrained his footsteps on the further bank.
Then spake he, ' Thunderer, who from the rock
Tarpeian seest the wall of mighty Rome;
Gods of my race who watched o'er Troy of old;
Thou Jove of Alba's height, and Vestal fires,
And rites of Romulus erst rapt to heaven,
And God-like Rome; be friendly to my quest.
Not with offence or hostile arms I come,
Thy Caesar, conqueror by land and sea,
Thy soldier here and wheresoe'er thou wilt:
No other's; his, his only be the guilt
Whose acts make me thy foe.' He gives the word
And bids his standards cross the swollen stream.
So in the wastes of Afric's burning clime
The lion crouches as his foes draw near,
Feeding his wrath the while, his lashing tail
Provokes his fury; stiff upon his neck
Bristles his mane: deep from his gaping jaws
Resounds the muttered growl, and should a lance
Or javelin reach him from the hunter's ring,
Scorning the puny scratch he bounds afield.
From modest fountain blood-red Rubicon
In summer's heat flows on; his pigmy tide
Creeps through the valleys and with slender marge
Divides the Italian peasant from the Gaul.
Then winter gave him strength, and fraught with rain
The third day's crescent moon; while Eastern winds
Thawed from the Alpine slopes the yielding snow.
The cavalry first form across the stream
To break the torrent's force; the rest with ease
Beneath their shelter gain the further bank.
When Caesar crossed and trod beneath his feet
The soil of Italy's forbidden fields,
Here,' spake he, 'peace, here broken laws be left;
Farewell to treaties. Fortune, lead me on;
War is our judge, and in the fates our trust.'
Then in the shades of night he leads the troops
Swifter than Balearic sling or shaft
Winged by retreating Parthian, to the walls
Of threatened Rimini, while fled the stars,
Save Lucifer, before the coming sun,
Whose fires were veiled in clouds, by south wind driven,
Or else at heaven's command: and thus drew on
The first dark morning of the civil war.
Now stood the troops within the captured town,
Their standards planted; and the trumpet clang
Rang forth in harsh alarums, giving note
Of impious strife: roused from their sleep the men
Rushed to the hall and snatched the ancient arms
Long hanging through the years of peace; the shield
With crumbling frame; dark with the tooth of rust
Their swords; 1 and javelins with blunted point.
But when the well-known signs and eagles shone,
And Caesar towering o'er the throng was seen,
They shook for terror, fear possessed their limbs,
And thoughts unuttered stirred within their souls.
O miserable those to whom their home
Denies the peace that all men else enjoy!
Placed as we are beside the Northern bounds
And scarce a footstep from the restless Gaul,
We fall the first; would that our lot had been
Beneath the Eastern sky, or frozen North,
To lead a wandering life, rather than keep
' The gates of Latium. Brennus sacked the town
' And Hannibal, and all the Teuton hosts.
' This is the path when Rome's the prize of war.'
Deep in their breasts they breathed the silent moan;
But dared not speak their sorrow nor their fear.
As when in winter all the fields are still,
And birds are voiceless, and no murmured sound
Breaks on the silence of the central sea;
So deep the stillness. But when through the shades
The day had broken, lo! the torch of war!
For by the hand of Fate is swift dispersed
All Caesar's shame of battle, and his mind
Scarce doubted more; and Fortune toiled to make
His action just and give him cause for arms.
For while Rome wavered and her patriots' names
Were loud and frequent in the mouths of men,
The Senate angered and in scorn of right 2
Drove out the Tribunes who withstood their will.
To Caesar's troops already on the march
They haste with Curio, who in former days
With bold and venal tongue had dared to speak
For Freedom, and to voice the people's wrongs,
And summon to their side the chiefs in arms.
Who, when he saw that Caesar doubted still,
Spake out; ' So long as I the rostrum held
' By this my voice against the Senate's will
' Was thy command prolonged, and to thy side
' By me were drawn the wavering men of Rome.
' Mute now are laws in war; we from our hearths
Are driven, yet willing exiles; for thine arms
Shall make us citizens of Rome again.
'Strike;3 for no strength as yet the foe hath gained.
'To pause when ready is to court defeat:
'Like risk, like labour, thou hast known before,
'But never such reward. Could Gallia hold
'Thine armies ten long years ere victory came,
'That little nook of earth? One paltry fight
'Or twain, fought out by thy resistless hand,
'And Rome for thee shall have subdued the world:
'Tis true no triumph now would bring thee home;
'No captive tribes would grace thy chariot wheels
'Winding in pomp around the ancient hill:
'Spite, gnawing spite, denies thee all thy due;
For all thy conquests, for a world well won
'Scarce shalt thou go unpunished. Yet 'tis fate
'Thou should'st subdue thy kinsman: share the world
'With him thou canst not; rule thou canst, alone.'

1 Marlowe has it: “' ... And swords
With ugly teeth of black rust foully scarred.'

2 In the Senate, Curio had proposed and carried a resolution that Pompeius and Caesar should lay their arms down simultaneously: but this was resisted by the Oligarchal party, who endeavoured, though unsuccessfully, to expel Curio from the Senate, and who placed Pompeius in command of the legions at Capua. This was in effect a declaration of war; and Curio, after a last attempt at resistance, left the city, and betook himself to Caesar. (See the close of Book IV.)

3 'Strike.' Dante places Curio in the ninth gulf of hell, 'from whose throat was cut the tongue which spake that hardy word.'-' Inferno,' xxviii.98 (Cary).

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Rubicon (California, United States) (2)
Vestal (Virginia, United States) (1)
Troy (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Romulus (New York, United States) (1)
Rimini (Italy) (1)
Latium (Italy) (1)
France (France) (1)
Cary (United Kingdom) (1)
Capua (Italy) (1)
Camillus (New York, United States) (1)

Visualize the most frequently mentioned Pleiades ancient places in this text.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide References (1 total)
  • Cross-references in general dictionaries to this page (1):
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: